“Sometimes it just comes down to, ‘Will this person embarrass me?’”

A client recently expressed the desire to develop the qualities that would help him grow from being the kind of leader who can run a $200m business to the kind of leader who can run a business of $1bn or more. I have some opinions on what those qualities are since I’ve worked with a number of leaders who made this kind of jump in scale—some successfully, some not—and other leaders who were never given the chance to try. Rather than rely on my own outsider view, however, I decided to ask a dozen or so leaders who have been successful in roles where they had P & L responsibility of $1bn or more what they think those qualities are. I also asked a few HR leaders who have supported general managers at this level.

I was surprised by their responses. Actually, not necessarily by the content of their responses, but by their responsiveness. I could tell that I hit on a question that these leaders were interested in. For such busy people, their answers, even when short, were thoughtful and precise. Their responses showed that this was the kind of question that these people spent a lot of time thinking about (which is probably one of the reasons why they are in the positions they are in…).

There were a number of themes in their responses, such as balancing strategic focus with execution discipline, the ability to manage complexity, and the ability to communicate a consistent and clear vision throughout the organization. But probably the quality that came through the most loud and clear was the ability to find, develop, and appropriately deploy talent at all levels of the organization, along with an ability and willingness to deal with under-performers and not let underperformance linger in their organization.

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