Four traits of an effective business leader

Four traits of an effective business leader

You hear people mention it all the time, but really, what’s a global mindset?

--Michelle Sabti, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Come on, you know the answer! You, a native of Australia who now works for the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority! When we met in your adopted hometown not long ago, all it took was one conversation for us to know that we were seeing a bona fide global mindset in action. “I love it here," you said, “It’s so different."

Before we talk about Empathy and the other new E’s, though, let’s quickly review the four “old" E’s, which one of us (Jack) first developed around 20 years ago to codify his view of effective leadership.

The first E was, and remains, Energy, the capacity to go-go-go, always engaged and ready for a challenge. The second E is Energize, the ability to invigorate others. Because too many smart people get stymied by over-thinking, the third E stands for Edge, the capacity to make yes-or-no decisions. And the fourth E is Execution, or getting the job done. The four E’s, however, are not complete unless wrapped in a P—passion—for both work and life.

Also See Jack and Suzy Welch videos

Now, in today’s global environment with its ever-increasing competitive intensity, leaders still need the old E’s. But the new E’s are becoming just as essential.

Take Empathy. In the global business context, it means a lot more than warmth and compassion. It means understanding different cultures enough to show consistent respect for their values and traditions. Bill Amelio, the chief executive of the $16 billion (around Rs73,300 crore) Chinese-American computer company Lenovo Group Ltd, for instance, told us that his US managers had to learn to get comfortable with silence during meetings in order to give their colleagues the chance to translate what they were hearing and make sense of it.

Similarly, he said, “At the beginning, we didn’t have a corporate calendar with everyone’s holidays, and people would end up scheduling meetings on the Chinese New Year. If you want to build trust, you can’t do that. In the global world, you have to honour what diverse people care about."

The second global E is Experimental, meaning a leader’s fearless exploration of new ideas, products and markets, even when the rewards are not immediate. Once companies could consign innovation to a few geniuses at headquarters and take the eurekas as they came. Today, with gutsy entrepreneurs popping up in virtually every corner of the world and multinationals harvesting their employees’ inventiveness no matter where they work, every company has to adopt risk-taking as a matter of routine.

As Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Inc., put it recently, “You can’t let short-term investors and pundits scare you off from experimenting." Referring to Amazon’s highly successful venture that trades in used and collectible items, he said, “Marketplace was our third try at a new business. The first two failures did not stop us. They taught us."

The third E stands for Example, as in setting one. As companies become more far-flung, leaders face the increasingly difficult challenge of building an organizational culture with shared values. That’s why leaders at every level need the ability to serve as role models: They must demonstrate the behaviours their company wants and expects from all its employees. Sure, leaders can get a megaphone and shout about the need for speed or candour, but as everyone knows, actions speak louder than words, especially when those words are being translated.

The final E again springs from the increased competitiveness of the global marketplace. It stands for Excited, or more specifically, “Excited to win".

Plenty of people are perfectly happy to show up to work and put in their hours. But the never-turned-off, ever-changing world demands that leaders show up with a radically different attitude.

“Just give me a person who is dying to win, a person who hates losing, and everything seems to take care of itself after that," says Mel Karmazin, the chief executive of Sirius XM Radio Inc. “That desire, that hunger—if you don’t have it today, you cannot compete."

We couldn’t agree more. Yes, in business, some leadership qualities will never change. But the business world has expanded far and wide, and with it, the requirements of leadership have too.

Adapted from Winning (HarperBusiness Publishers, 2005), by Jack and Suzy Welch.

Write to Jack & Suzy

Jack and Suzy are eager to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work, and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller, Winning. Their latest book is Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today. Mint readers can email them questions at Please include your name, occupation and city. Only select questions will be answered.