What is executive leadership, and what are the main traits of executive leaders?

By admin / February 9, 2023

Have you reached the point in your career where you consider yourself ready for an executive-level position? Or have you always admired the role of an executive leader and wondered what it takes to be successful as one?

No doubt, talent and experience are important for being successful at a job. However, being successful as an executive leader goes beyond your expertise or accurate knowledge of how things work in your field. In addition to these, there are certain traits that make someone stand out as having the capacity to lead. These are the same traits that existing leaders have utilized over time and have helped them to stay successful in their positions.

In this article, we will be looking into what executive leadership means as a role and the traits that make executive leaders successful at what they do.

What is executive leadership?

TechTarget defines executive leadership as the ability of those who manage or direct employees in an organization to influence and guide the individuals. In other words, executive leadership involves deciding the next course of action for an organization or team. Executive leadership differs from conventional leadership in that it is more strategic, more methodical, and more goal-oriented.

Executive leadership decides: ‘What’s next after this milestone is achieved?’ ‘How will the organization achieve this?’ ‘What can be learned from the previous experience?’ ‘How can team members be equipped to perform their roles well?’ Executive leadership is essentially innovation and providing long-term solutions to an organization’s problems.

What do executive leaders do?

It is quite hard to provide specifics of what executive leaders do as leadership itself has always been a hard term to define. With several people having different views about what right leadership is all about, the role of an executive leader can vary greatly from organization to organization. However, executive leaders typically partly or fully contribute to the following:

  • Setting and executing short-term and long-term goals.
  • Strategic planning to define a direction for the organization.
  • Overseeing team members, directing them, and motivating them to perform tasks.
  • Managing organization budgets and making financial decisions.

What are the main traits of executive leaders?

There is no exact formula or perfect recipe for becoming an executive leader. In fact, there is no defined academic study pattern for becoming an executive leader. People have risen from different works of life and with different academic backgrounds to become executive leaders in their various fields. However, it is expected that executive leaders have intermediate to expert knowledge of leadership and management. This is why a master’s in leadership or administration is considered a huge plus for anyone who desires a role as an executive leader.

Beyond academic qualifications though, there are certain traits, strengths and skills that are expected of any successful executive leader. The traits will not only help you land the best jobs when you show in your resume that you possess them, but they will also set you apart in any organization you work with and make you excel as an executive leader.

Below are the main traits of executive leaders.

Excellent communication

A great leader is nothing without the ability to communicate well. Excellent communication is important to successful leadership in several ways. One, you must be able to communicate your goals and ideas to your team so that you can effectively carry them along. Also, good communication is important for helping your team members to rightly key into your vision. Communication is equally important for boosting team commitment and morale and ensuring productivity at all levels.

While you may have the best interest of your team at heart, the inability to communicate well will result in many lapses and will create loopholes that will hinder essential processes in the organization. Successful leaders are people who have learned to communicate well over time. However, communication is not just about making your thought processes known. It also involves listening and giving thought to the ideas of others. During moments when team members do not see the potential in themselves to provide working ideas, the executive leader is responsible for creating an environment that encourages expression and makes team members comfortable trusting their capabilities.

Skillful networking

The executive leader is on the frontline of many projects, is the face of the team, and is often responsible for interacting with people from other teams and organizations. Skillful networking is therefore a trait that is expected of every executive leader as they will constantly need to build professional relationships that are meant to last long and bring immense rewards to the organization.

Networking can be quite a difficult art to master, even with the advent of social media, which now seems to make networking easier. However, the executive leader has an eye for identifying relationships that would become beneficial in the near future.

The executive leader not only maintains meaningful relationships with outsiders, but also connects meaningfully with in-house members and clients to identify talent and better understand the perspective of coworkers so as to rightly lead them.

Compassion, openness and approachability

Contrary to what many think, successful leaders are not intimidating people who everyone trembles in front of. No one has ever led successfully by being that way. The leaders who are most loved and generate the most results are those who are compassionate and highly approachable. These traits create an environment that makes team members comfortable expressing their talents and unique perspectives.

The executive leader must be able to recognize the thin line between sternness and stiffness, self-confidence and arrogance, discipline and lack of compassion. Mastering all of these makes the leader one that is compassionate, approachable, and open to corrections as well as innovative ideas from team members.

Time management

The executive leader must be able to manage time well and ensure that projects are completed on time. The leader must be able to schedule just the needed amount of time needed to complete a particular task and must be disciplined and strict enough to ensure that the task is finished before the deadline.

Another important trait for an executive leader is the ability to identify faster but equally effective ways of performing tasks. The executive leader is not rigid, but is open to innovation and embraces technology and all the benefits it brings where effectiveness and productivity are concerned.


Passion is one of the highly essential traits that a successful executive leader possesses. The leader who is at the forefront of every project needs a high dose of passion and focus to ensure that tasks are performed excellently, just as they are written down in the strategy book. The leader must also be able to distinguish between intensity and passion. While intensity can stir up energy, it is usually not long-lasting and wanes quickly. However, passion stays to the end, even during challenging moments when the enthusiasm is no longer there.

The executive leader also has that special ability to make passion contagious. If the executive leader cannot stir the same passion in team members, then such a leader has failed in part and will have a low success quotient. A successful leader has learned to fuel the drive of others from their own drive and devotion to the task at hand.

While some of these traits can be innate in many, the best way to acquire them is through experience and learning. As you progressively work in different leadership and administrative positions, you will continually have to utilize these traits, and this will help you develop them as you prepare for higher leadership positions such as that of being an executive leader.

Besides work experience, quality and relevant education is another way to build the skills and traits needed to succeed in any role. The traits outlined here can be developed with the help of a highly specialized master’s program such as the online MBA in executive leadership offered by Spring Arbor University. While obtaining an advanced degree grants you an edge for better employment opportunities, MBA programs offer more flexibility in qualification options as they prepare you for almost any leadership role in any field and train you to develop the skills needed for successful leadership and administration.


Although leadership positions are craved by most, not many have all that it takes to be successful at leadership. The executive leader is someone who directs, administrates, and has a direct influence on team members. There are certain traits that, when you exemplify them, will make you a top consideration for executive leadership positions. These are the traits that we have outlined in this article. However, this is not an exhaustive list. Different organizations and employers will usually have certain traits they look out for depending on the unique requirements of the job.


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