leadership success
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How Leaders Develop, Succeed and Survive

Many strive to be great leaders and some even strive to be at the top level of leadership as a CEO or senior executive. The question is, how do leaders make it to the top level of leadership? This has always been a question which intrigued me, especially after in being a leadership development consultant and throughout my studies in leadership and organizational development. Let’s examine this question from three different perspectives.

  1. How do leaders develop to get to the top and stay there?
  2. What are the top traits that differentiate top leaders from others?
  3. How do leaders survive their journey?

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How do leaders develop to get to the top and stay there?

Morgan W. McCall Jr., professor at University of Southern California (USC) and formerly Center for Creative Leadership, suggests that to some extent is learned and from experience (Gill, 2011, p. 348). Seeds of leadership are often planted early in life and are based on a combination of experiences such as:

  • Early work experiences
  • Short-term assignments
  • Major assignments
  • Experience with very good and very bad bosses
  • Hardships
  • Other events such as learning programs, coaching assignments, etc.

For top leaders, these experiences should cause them to stop, reflect, learn, focus on what really matters, and emerge stronger. Every leader’s path involve different twists, turns, and bumps in the road. The key is that they deal with weaknesses discovered and develop new strengths. If you desire to be a leader who rises to the top, keep these things in mind. I once had a leader tell me, “If you career isn’t changing every two years or so, what are doing? You certainly aren’t growing.” Of course this is a matter of opinion, but his point is certainly valid as this individual is currently a VP at a major company. He achieved this by taking on different assignments and working his way up over time.

 What are the top traits that differentiate top leader from others?

There is no one size fits all chief executive. However, there are specific traits that are common among top level leaders according to various sources. Here are just a few:

  • Take calculated risks – takes logical, not careless chances
  • Critical/strategic thinking – seeing the organization as an interdependent and interconnected systems of multiple parts, where decisions in one area provoke actions in other areas
  • Analytical intelligence – examine problems and develop solutions
  • Self-awareness – clear perception of your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions
  • Transformational – when leaders raise people’s motivation and sense of higher purpose

If you desire to be a top leader, I encourage you to examine yourself against these traits and see how you measure up.


How do leaders survive their journey?

The key to leadership is self-awareness and consciously managing situations to become better. To survive the journey of leadership, examine yourself, ask others for input, learn from mistakes, have purpose, and be resilient. Avoid negative traits such as arrogance, volatility, excessive caution, habitual distrust, aloofness and perfectionism, which can derail you from making it to the top (Gill, 2011, p. 347). Keep all of this in mind and you will see the results of your efforts. Focus and purpose is how leaders survive the journey.

I would love to hear from you…

  • What are your thoughts about how leaders make it to the top? Do you agree, disagree?
  • What steps have  or are you taking to become a better leader that have proven to be effective?
  • What traits have you observed in top executives?
  • How do you think leaders survive their journey? How you have survived your personal journey?

I will continue to share more on the subject of leadership. If you desire to become a better leader, stay tuned!

Beatty, K.; Dinwoodie, D.; Hughes, R.; Beatty, K. (2014). Becoming a strategic leader: Your role in your organization’s enduring success. San Francisco, CA: Josey – Bass.

Gill, R. (2011). Theory and practice of leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Madden, J. (2014, October 8). 10 Traits that determine future CEO success. Retrieved     from http://www.fastcompany.com/3036769/hit-the-ground-running/10-ceo-traits-that-determine-future-success.

Mannion, E.; Samoulis, D. (n.d.).Making it to the Top: Nine Attributes That Differentiate CEOs. Retrieved September 30, 2015 from http://www.russellreynolds.com/insights/thought-leadership/making-it-to-the-top-nine-attributes-that-differentiate-ceos.

This entry was posted in: leadership success


Angela Spears, the creator and founder of Dream Living, is a Life and Executive Coach, Keynote Speaker, Author, and friend whose purpose in life is to help others to reach new levels of excellence and fulfillment in their lives, ultimately fulfilling their dreams. Her passion is to motivate others to dream again. This is reflected in her ability to meet people where they are, her focus on individual progress, ability to engage others, and in the energy she applies to helping her clients. After meeting with Angela, you will come away with hope that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, and live your dream life. Angela has overcome many obstacles in her own life, and understands some of the challenges people face in striving to achieve life success. Coming from a childhood where she was consistently discouraged from going after her own dreams, Angela determined in her mind that she could be a success and would live out her dream life. Through her own ambition, discipline, drive for results, positive mindset, goal focus, problem-solving skills, creativity, and initiative, she has taken the steps to live her dreams of achieving an outstanding career, owning her own business, becoming a published writer and author, while helping others to achieve their dreams, and enjoying her wonderful family and friends. Angela consistently stretches her thinking and actions, and is consistently experiencing increase in all areas of her life. Angela’s goal in helping others is to remove the fears that keep them from accomplishing their goals so that they are able to achieve and live their dreams. Her methods include helping others to gain a fresh outlook in their thinking, set goals, and implement a detailed life action plan that will lead to success. Angela also works as a Peak Performance Coach through her company - Building Excellence. She consults with senior business leaders to determine organizational needs and provides effective, cutting edge solutions that impact bottom-line results. Angela specializes in developing high performance leaders and teams in the corporate and business world. Angela has over 15 years of experience teaching, leading teams, consulting, and coaching, where she has implemented strategies to develop employees, and others around her to reach higher levels of success. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. She also has a Master’s Degree in Human Resources from Keller Graduate School of Management. Angela has years of experience facilitating a host of success workshops. Her areas of expertise include facing and overcoming your fears, managing your emotions, and building your life for success.

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