It sounds trivial, but there are vast differences between good leaders, great leaders, and the best leaders.
An intensive 10-year study, conducted by Ron Carucci and his leadership development firm Navalent, analyzed 2,700 executives to find the common leadership traits among the top performing executives.
Carucci writes in Harvard Business Review about how he used IBM's artificial intelligence bot Watson to shift through 10 years worth of the executives' transition interviews and found four patterns that the best ranked leaders all shared.
They understand each facet of the business
A good leader might be a finance guy who rose through the ranks, but at the end of the day, he's a numbers guy and favors the finance department. When a leader doesn't know how other departments work, a rift or conflict can bring the system to a halt. A great leader knows the entire business and knows how to "integrate the entire organization into a well synchronized machine," Carucci says. The study found that the best performing leaders know how each department works individually and how to bring them together to work as an effective whole. Carucci says the best leaders strengthen a company's "seams" to prevent fragmentation and increase coordination.
They make decision remarkably well
Carucci says the study finds that the best performing leaders are excellent decision-makers. "Exemplary executives have the ability to declare their views, engage others' ideas, analyze data for insights, weigh alternatives, own the final call, and communicate the decision clearly," he writes. Clear decision-making also sets off a positive chain reaction--when a leader makes a clear decision it inspires confidence across the company, sets priorities and decreases the chance of competing goals getting in the way. Unfortunately, Carucci found that this trait is exceedingly rare.
They understand the industry
"Exceptional executives maintain a solid grasp on the ever-changing context within which their business competes," Carucci says. It sounds obvious, but the best leaders understand how their company operates, how it makes money and what is most relevant to their customers. They can see trends emerging years down the road and understand how value is created in their market, which also helps them to make smart investments and position their company's products.
They form deep relationships
Think about your favorite boss. What was your relationship like? Most likely, it went beyond superficialities. Carucci says the best performing leaders in his study fostered deep, "mutually beneficial, trusting relationship."
"Their legacy becomes a positive reputation within the organization for consistently delivering results while genuinely caring for those who deliver them," he writes.
Carucci says another study found that up to 60 percent of bad behavior in the office was attributed to incompatible people. In order to be effective and drive effective behavior, you need to connect with your team.