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Some professionals just seem destined to reach the top. An intangible quality they possess seems to suggest they are pre-destined to forge a highly successful career, and rise above their peers like the proverbial cream.

Effortlessly shining during company meetings, sales pitches and networking opportunities, these business leaders of the future almost always seem to combine charm with a truly ruthless streak. We can spot them a mile off, the shoulders sculpted perfectly for business attire and the walk which suggests they are on their way to effortlessly solve another corporate crisis.

But can we pinpoint these characteristics and traits which set the elite apart from the masses? What are these key skills which employers and board members seem so keen to indulge and benefit from?

And more importantly, can these characteristics be learned or adopted by anyone? With a definitive model for business success, growing your firm or progressing your career would be all the more straightforward. Surely as soon as we pinpoint the recipe for success, we can all simply add the ingredients into our daily business lives, and reap the rewards.

There are several schools of theory relating to the key characteristics which make a good business leader or entrepreneur, many of which are contradictory. One source may suggest that meticulous planning is the key attribute a skilled leader should possess, whilst the next source may imply that following intuition is the major skill required.

Of course, there can never be a foolproof blueprint for entrepreneurial greatness. But it does seem that, by considering the characteristics of already successful entrepreneurs, there are several traits which most, if not all, successful business minds seem to share.

Here, we look at the key characteristics which make a good business leader.

Risk taking prowess

The proverb ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ seems to have been philosophised by successful entrepreneurs, with the world’s brightest business minds embracing a risky strategy when it comes to growing their organisation from grassroots to global. Risk-taking takes intelligence, courage and not a little luck, but as a handful of the world’s business elite have proven, the rewards can be significant when the risk pays off.

One of the world’s foremost entrepreneurial risk-takers is Richard Branson, whose renowned organisation, Virgin, has certainly strayed into some uncertain and altogether surprising territory over the years. From travel and communications to retail and music production, Virgin’s success lies in its founder’s aptitude for calculated risk-taking. The result? The Forbes real time list of the world’s billionaires cites Branson’s wealth at $5.2 billion, placing him among the UK’s wealthiest businessmen.


Having lots of determination might sound like a flaky justification for entrepreneurial success, but all of the brightest business leaders have it, and in abundance. Growing a business from the ground up presents the kind of challenges, issues and workload that would leave many people baulking, meaning that it’s only ever the most determined of characters who are able to steer a course for success.

Take Michael Dell for example. Giving his name to the now-universally-recognised tech firm, Michael Dell rose from humble beginnings to establish his computing business, showing an extraordinary level of determination along the way. Dell is now worth billions, a fortune he owes to his innate determination and will to succeed.

Quick to learn and adapt

Entrepreneurs might appear like they’re constantly at the top of their game, but they have to learn, adapt and develop just like the rest of us. Business leaders have to stay abreast of changes and developments in their industry, and only those who are able to learn and develop are able to stay ahead of the curve, and their competitors.

Many entrepreneurs recognise the importance of learning, including self-made music mogul Simon Cowell. In an interview with Bloomberg, Cowell cites constant learning as a reason behind his success, offering this advice to budding entrepreneurs: “Work hard, be patient, and be a sponge while learning your business.”

Have the ability to accept failure

Regardless of how high on the ladder you climb, the prospect of failure will always remain a few rungs behind. It’s how different business leaders deal with failure which sets them apart, with the most successful entrepreneurs able to dust themselves down and come back fighting from a setback with a better and more considered strategy.

From Walt Disney to Colonel Sanders, Henry Ford to Sir James Dyson; some of the world’s most successful minds suffered their share of failures before reaching the top (as covered in this article). Having suffered such monumental flops and failures, many of these people could have given up. Instead, they regrouped, remained focused on their goals and accepted that failure is all part of negotiating the long road to success.

Confidence in their ideas

“Most entrepreneurial ideas will sound crazy, stupid and uneconomic, and then they’ll turn out to be right.” So said Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, in an interview with Wired. The enigmatic business leader threw everything into his idea to create a global entertainment streaming platform, demonstrating absolute confidence in what others could have seen as a hare-brained and destined-for-failure enterprise.

Hastings’ success in helming Netflix to global success wasn’t guaranteed. A quick look at the first jobs of some of the world’s most successful business leaders (as featured in an article from Gazprom Energy) reveals that the entrepreneur started out as a vacuum cleaner salesman before coming up with the idea for Netflix. It was confidence in this idea which gave Hastings the focus and drive to succeed, and this is a trait which many business leaders share — the ability to stay true to their original idea.

By Scott Beaman, marketing manager, Banc Media