5 (unexpected) leadership lessons from FTSE 100 CEOs

By Robert Half on 30th July 2015

There is no secret answer to becoming a leader of a FTSE 100 company. However there are lessons you can learn from their success. No matter where you are in your career there is never a time where improving your leadership skills is going to be a disadvantage. These 5 qualities are not only relevant to leaders, but they can be incorporated into any professionals’ career development.

1. A strong work ethic

It might be obvious, but it's an important leadership quality that's easy to overlook. A strong work ethic was a quality Veronique Laury, the chief executive of Kingfisher, attributed to part of her successful career as a female FTSE 100 CEO in the UK.

Speaking to the Telegraph, "I have just worked, been passionate about what I have been doing, been true to my convictions," Ms Laury commented.

2. A willingness to learn

Chief executives are continually striving to develop innovative approaches to help better their company. The best leaders are those who accept they do not know everything - particularly in this ever-changing environment and are constantly seeking expert advice to better their knowledge. 

This means they must look beyond their typical sources of information and try to expand their knowledge base. Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP, Willie Walsh of IAG and Paul Walsh of Diageo are perhaps good examples of this trait, which can ensure not just longevity, but continued success in the CEO role for many years, and a leadership quality that any professional can adopt in developing their career

3. Love the company and its people

A passion for your work is an asset in any job - but Moya Green, chief executive of Royal Mail, believes it is particularly important in her role.

"If you don't love the company and the people - really love them - you can't do a job like this," she told the Telegraph.

Related: Download our new report The secrets of the happiest companies and employees which reveals the drivers behind employee happiness and how businesses can nurture a positive work culture.

4. A decisive nature

Liv Garfield recently became CEO of Severn Trent and is the youngest female leader in the FTSE. Furthermore, she was previously a key driver of the rollout of fibre broadband at BT, illustrating her ability to make key decisions to drive a key project.

In an interview with the York Press, she lifted the lid on what makes her tick and said she considers herself "quite decisive" and "very timely". As a result, Ms Garfield prefers to work with people who display similar same traits.

As a professional developing a successful career, it’s important to have time management skills and are able to make informed decisions when necessary.

5. Embrace social media

You might expect chief executives to have a rather dismissive attitude towards social media and Twitter in particular. But Robert Glaesener, chief executive of Talkwalker, believes ignoring Twitter in this day and age is comparable to letting a phone ring.

Speaking to the Telegraph, he said: "Twitter is not a parallel universe for egocentric celebs and chatty customer services. It is a dynamic forum in which a CEO can lead from the front, extend influence, impress stakeholders, set a corporate benchmark and show staff how to engage with their stakeholders. Chief executives are good at listening to the social world, digesting news and gathering opinion. If they want to influence it, the time is rapidly approaching when they will have to engage with it."

The rise of social media means that anyone can influence, network, and raise the profile of their company or themselves for that matter. Professionals should adopt this strategy, updating their profiles on LinkedIn and Twitter to help enhance their career prospects.

A positive and open-minded attitude to everything around you, from the people you work with to new forms of technology and working practices, is essential for professional success and effective leadership. Passion and dedication are a given for any senior professional, but it's the ability to be receptive to new ideas and notions that can really set the very best apart. To find out more about what it takes to become a top leader, see our FTSE 100 CEO tracker to find out about their backgrounds and paths to the top.

Robert Half Executive Search specialises in the search for and placement of executive leadership talent across a broad spectrum of function areas and industry sectors. Contact the Executive Search team today to learn more.

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