It’s a tough world and it’s only going to get tougher but that doesn’t mean that you need to toughen up as a business leader. What you need is the 5 secret ingredients of running a business and to make sure that you’re employing them as needed.

Work smarter, not harder is the best motto and while it’s a cliché, it’s a good one. So, let’s take a look at those 5 characteristics that successful business leaders can fall back on when the going gets tough.

A Sense Of Humour

You’ve got to be able to laugh if you want to live with the rollercoaster ride that is being in business and if you take a quick look at your business heroes, you’ll realize that this is how they approach life too.

Steve Jobs, who is still sadly missed, quipped, “Why join the navy if you can be a pirate?” When talking about the threats that Apple faced. It didn’t mean he wasn’t taking piracy seriously, just that he knew that it wasn’t the only obstacle in his path.

Humour lets you put problems in perspective and allows you to face them down without panic. It’s also a great way to help the people around you let off some steam through laughter too. Just don’t take it too far, you want to be a smart leader and not the office clown.

Real Resilience

Mark Cuban says, “I wouldn’t be where I am now if I didn’t fail… a lot. The good, the bad, it’s all part of the success equation.”

The management guru, Dale Carnegie, adds; “Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest steppingstones to success.”

It’s not your ability to head off every problem that makes you stand out as a leader, it’s the ability to roll with it when the chips are down. Things do go wrong. You can sit around whining about it or you can realize that life handed you lemons and make lemonade. That’s what winners do.

The Courage To Face Your Fears

Peter Drucker, the management consultant, wants you to know, “Wherever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”

Courage is not about going to war and fighting battles but rather tackling the things that we are afraid of and doing them anyway.

Business is about risk-taking. You need to take risks to grow and thrive. The business that takes no risks, doesn’t grow. There are a lot of these around, 30 years of hard work, with very little to show for it. That’s what living in fear looks like. You can do better.

The Ability To Forgive (And Sometimes, Forget)

OK, Gandhi wasn’t in business but he did run a country and he knew a thing or two about strength of character. He said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

He was right too. It’s easy to carry a grudge. To let it interfere with the way we work with others and to tarnish our ability to think clearly. It takes real inner fortitude to let go and forgive other people.

That doesn’t mean that you have to forget. Forgetting a wrong can, occasionally, be the right thing to do but most of the time… remember and don’t let something go wrong in the same way twice.

A Decisive Mind

Our final ingredient is an important one. No company has ever gone anywhere without action. Talk is fine, up to a point, but eventually you have to choose which way to go and what to do.

A good leader takes advice and solicits input on her (or his) decision making but they own the calls that they make.

As John Pearce said, “The worst business decision you can make is no decision. The needs are not going to go away. Waiting is what has gotten us in the situation we’re in now.”

Wilfred A Peterson went further with, “Decision is the spark that ignites action. Until a decision is made, nothing happens…. Decision is the courageous facing of issues, knowing that if they are not faced, problems will remain forever unanswered.”

Leadership and decision making are inextricably entwined.


The 5 ingredients to successful leadership may come as something of a surprise. There’s nothing in there about strategy, tactics or management and that’s because leaders aren’t always in those roles. They’re there when they’re needed and doing what’s necessary to drive their business forward.

Have a sense of humour, show resilience, face your fears, learn to forgive and don’t be afraid to make decisions. Those around you will respect you for it and follow you anywhere.