The Eight Characteristics of a Great Leader

We recently met a 42-year-old pharmaceutical employee who was promoted to commercial director of a European pharmaceutical company in Japan. There is often a positive correlation between age and seniority in Japan. This gentleman was promoted because of his exceptional leadership ability. What are the characteristics of a great leader in Japan’s pharmaceutical industry? Through qualitative observations, based on more than 1,000 face-to-face interviews, Morunda has compiled the following eight characteristics of great leaders.

1. Great leaders come in all shapes and sizes. The movie Money Ball (a true story based on the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane) is about an attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing analysis to acquire new players. In it, the management of the Oakland A’s focuses on the “look” of a successful ball player. The management made false assumptions based on preconceptions of what successful players should look like! Just as in baseball, success in business is about achieving goals and managing teams to achieve those goals. Great leaders focus on achievements and not on personal qualities such as education, gender, or ethnic background. The greatest predictor of future success is past performance.

2. Great leaders have character, and some are even “characters.” Regardless of this fact, strong leaders prioritize the greatness of their organizations and teams, rather than being in the spotlight. Their characters are shown through their actions and the way they treat others.

3. Great leaders are wonderful communicators. In an interview, Warren Buffet once said that Dale Carnegie’s course, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” changed his life. He mentioned that his certificate from the course hung proudly in his office, while he wasn’t quite sure where his degree from Columbia Business School was. Great leaders can make the complicated simple and share with enthusiasm and urgency. They understand that communication is a two-sided coin, with one side silent and the other listening. This is what Steven Covey describes as empathetic listening in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Empathetic listening means listening with the intent to understand and not just waiting for the other person to be quiet so we can have our turn.

4. Great leaders are focused. Superior leaders have a laser-like aim. They know what the priorities are and have the concentration needed to do whatever it takes to get the job done. They understand the Pareto principle, also known as the 80–20 rule or the law of the vital few. This principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Great leaders analyze their business and focus their energies on the 20% to get the greatest return on their investment of time and resources.

5. Great leaders are generous with both their time and resources. They understand that building a team takes time, and people don’t respond well to the “carrot and stick” school of management. They empower their people with autonomy and the necessary resources to accomplish their goals.

6. Great leaders are passionate. They instill in their team the core belief that they will win and unify their teams around a common goal. Enthusiasm, passion, and a positive attitude are their calling cards.

7. Great leaders admit their mistakes and take responsibility. They freely admit when they’re wrong and immediately jump at the chance to use their own mistakes and those of others as teaching opportunities. They welcome learning opportunities and know that the road to success is paved with the stepping-stones of failure.

8. Great leaders are constantly learning. They understand that a leader is made and not born, and the skill of leadership is learned and fostered by reading, listening, and associating with people who inspire and uplift them.

The characteristics of leaders who shape the pharmaceutical industry of Japan have been learned over time. We all have the ability to lead whether it’s an organization of one or a company of thousands. If we are fortunate enough to lead a team, then one thing is certain, people are watching our behavior far more closely than they are listening to our words. Perhaps the German literary genius Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said it best, “Behavior is a mirror in which everyone displays his own image.”


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