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The Top Three Traits of Northern Ireland Business Leaders

Published on: 28 February 2017

We all see the overly shared articles of ‘The Most Sought After Leadership Traits’ and ‘Top 10 Characteristics of Successful Business Directors’, but I often wonder how many of these can be backed up by real, tangible data, and how many are specific to the unique individuals and culture of Northern Ireland?

When it boils down to the genuine traits that really evoke positive change in a business, we have found here in 4c that the candidates we have headhunted show a trend in leadership soft skills, leaving the likes of ‘business acumen’ and being ‘commercially-astute’ as no more than buzz words.

We are extremely fortunate in that we spend a lot of our time with Northern Irish business leaders and expatriate talent, and through our research we have identified what we believe to be the top three vital soft skills:

  1. Innovative Thinking (49% of Senior Executives in Northern Ireland Classify this in their top three skills)

While at first this term can seem completely abstract, when considering just how volatile the Northern Irish marketplace, trade and politics can be, it is not surprising that this has shown itself to be our top characteristic of a prosperous business leader.

Being at the helm of a company in Northern Ireland, you must be able to respond rapidly, but effectively, to unexpected change and harness this change to navigate your business through periods of uncertainty.

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Mark Twain

  1. The ability to communicate well with all levels of employees (48% of Senior Executives in Northern Ireland Classify this in their top three skills)

Communicating a vital message to your staff is one thing. Communicating this in a genuine and passionate manner is another. Creating a motivational climate across teams through communication is key to ensure retention, fulfillment and to promote a culture of ambition. Through building and communicating this culture, we can see how this positivity emanates through our clients, membership bodies and media.

In Northern Ireland, industries often overlap and contacts are never really six degrees of separation apart. Often a large proportion of our business is transacted through word of mouth, networking and referrals and so it is vital that this word is positive and authentic.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

  1. Spirit of an Entrepreneur (39% of Senior Executives in Northern Ireland Classify this in their top three skills)

Not all leaders with an entrepreneurial spirit decide to start their own businesses, but rather act as a visionary for their employer. This is ‘characterised by the taking of financial risks in the hope of profit’ and being a driving force for growth and mitigating against complacency.

We are in a small but lucrative market, with great opportunities for exporting and expansion. There is a world of trade on our doorstep, and it can be ours for the taking.

“If you don’t drive your business, it will be driven out of business.” B. C. Forbes


When you reflect on your own skillset do you see parallels with the above? Or do you find that your skills differ from that shown in the national surveys?

Maybe there is one of the three that you feel should be replaced by another trait – we would love to know and to hear from you.

Orla McGreevy, Business Development Executive, 4c Executive

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