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What Is Corporate Leadership? The Key Qualities & Top 5 Skills Needed for Company Growth

by Thuy Sindell, PhD. and Milo Sindell, MS.

Corporate leadership steers a company or organization through the day-to-day choppy seas and navigates toward the future. Yet corporate leadership doesn’t just focus on financial and business strategies, overseeing personnel, crafting core values statements, or issuing directives for employees at every level.

Corporate leadership also inspires managers, supervisors, and employees with a growth mentality. It sets goals integral to the corporate culture that encourage innovation and avoid stagnancy and complacency.

Using the proper corporate leadership training programs, a leadership team demonstrates the ongoing benefits of learning and knowledge. They absorb leadership skills that transform them into high-profile executives and aspirational models who understand personal dynamics and mindsets.

This way, the business grows organically, keeping pace technologically and philosophically with the times.

Let’s dive into the structure of corporate leadership. Then let’s explore how the five top corporate leadership skills below empower your corporate leaders to establish a tone of learning, coach employees to strive for the next level, and enable your corporate culture to thrive.

Corporate Leadership Structure and Responsibilities

In the corporate world of the United States, the most common structure consists of a management team and a board of directors. Shareholders elect the board, which includes the company’s daily leadership team and outside directors.

Although these people might have recognizable leadership skills, they don’t have direct ties to the company but receive compensation through stock options, an annual retainer, or other benefits. Outside directors provide unbiased advice that helps grow shareholders’ wealth and mitigates fraud risk through corporate governance.

While a company’s chief executives share these goals, these outstanding leaders within a company or organization also focus on using their management skills and entrepreneurial spirit to motivate team members at every level and foster work environments that deliver stellar business results.

Here’s a brief overview of these company leaders and their responsibilities:

  • Chief executive officer: The chief executive officer (CEO) is the top manager, responsible for a company’s entire operations and maintaining the company’s smooth operation. The CEO reports directly to the board of directors and implements its initiatives and decisions.
  • Executive vice president: The second in command of an organization, this person handling its financial health, operations, budget considerations, and strategic planning. This person also often stands in for the CEO and oversees the professional development of lower-level executives and supervisors.
  • Chief financial officer: A senior vice president, the chief financial officer (CFO) handles the company’s financial health, analyzing company financial data, drafting budgets, and monitoring expenditures. The CFO reports directly to the CEO and presents their information to shareholders, the board of directors, and regulatory agencies.
  • Chief operating officer: Also called a senior vice president, the chief operating officer (COO) tends to be more hands-on than the CEO, supervising issues related to employees, marketing, production, and sales. This person handles the day-to-day activities of a business and reports directly to the CEO.
  • General manager (GM): A general manager is a scaled-down version of a CEO, handling the daily operations of a business unit or several business units. They set operational policies, create and maintain budgets, manage employees, and ensure that everyone around them helps meet the strategic goals of a business.

Key Corporate Leadership Qualities

Although industries and leadership styles vary, successful chief executives throughout the corporate world share certain leadership qualities that bolster employee motivation, convey self-confidence, and foster authentic connections among team members at all levels.

The thing is, a person doesn’t acquire these leadership qualities automatically by landing in a particular position. Leadership qualities also aren’t inherent. Rather, as leadership theory scholar Dr. Peter Northouse says, leadership is a process of influence toward a common goal.

One early leadership theory from the late 1800s, the Great Man concept, defined leadership by innate characteristics, which as you might guess, left women out of the playing field.

Thankfully, corporate leadership theory has evolved to look beyond dominant personality traits to a person’s actions — “not who the leader is but what the leader does,” as Benedictine University in Illinois notes.

In other words, leaders might have influence, but they can learn how to develop this, much like one acquires management skills such as drafting a budget or evaluating personnel for advancement.

Some corporate leadership involves a transformational style where leaders connect with individuals through motivation instead of through transactions. Other corporate leadership takes on the characteristics of a company servant, someone who listens with empathy, awareness, and foresight.

Whatever style your managers prefer, they become more flexible and serve the company better by knowing more about the skills that comprise leadership.

What Are the Top 5 Corporate Leadership Skills?

In our work with outstanding leaders, we’ve noticed these five inherent qualities, all of which chief executives can acquire and enhance through corporate leadership training programs

Influencing Skills

Effective corporate leaders don’t simply order people to do things based on their title or position, such as, “I’m the CEO, so what I say goes.” While there might be some people who buy into that school of thought, modern leaders influence corporate culture by uniting employees around a common mission, notes Harvard Business School.

They communicate the organization’s “objective function,” or what the company aims to achieve, how it measures success, and how it defines victory, says Joseph Fuller, co-leader of the Harvard Business School initiative Managing the Future of Work.

Executives lead by influence, not intimidation, by promoting and encouraging respectful and meaningful relationships. Men and women like a leader who is engaged and present, not someone who pops up solely through meetings, memos, or emails. Engagement telegraphs that this is a workplace where people care.

Influencing skills spread a collaborative feeling of responsibility throughout team members. In addition, the ability to influence others to embrace the company vision engineers respect and results in positive employee motivation.


While every corner of the business world has strategies, such as plans for reaching and retaining new customers, a true corporate leader looks beyond the latest bells and whistles to focus on programs and resources that align with the company’s standards, vision, and values.

Successful executives constantly work on their strategy for different problems and scenarios so that they can troubleshoot solutions. Instead of sticking with the status quo, they speak with people who have had similar experiences, for instance, or challenge others to think like entrepreneurs, even if they’re skilled in a particular job.

Likewise, chief executives and employees become motivated when they feel like they’re following a strategy for success that includes developing their knowledge and abilities. Getting others involved with this strategy inspires commitment and helps grow future business leaders.

Communication Skills

Effective leadership involves open communication. When employees say they admire an executive’s charismatic leadership, they often refer to a leadership style that involves clarity in communication, even when dealing with complex issues.

People value someone who communicates succinctly, clearly, and with integrity. That means getting to the heart of the matter, especially when times are tough, not clouding crucial developments with euphemisms. It also involves using a collaborative tone, even when you’re on a deadline.

In today’s corporate world, the “my way or the highway” leadership approach has few fans.

While all executives want to convey confidence, a leader balances this with humility. Accepting responsibility and expressing appreciation for the people within an organization breeds loyalty and contributes to a company’s overarching success.

As one joint study by the Conference Board and Development Dimensions International notes, effectiveness increases when upper management shows support for leaders in the same manner that leaders are taught to support the line staff.

Inspirational Vision

Part of a leader’s influence involves having an inspirational vision — and communicating that to others. Corporate leaders recognize new opportunities, nuances, opposing trends, and contradictions, Harvard Business School says.

In other words, they don’t chart their success through a tunnel. They absorb various viewpoints and shifting trends so that they can adjust their ideas and strategies as needed. However, they also don’t operate through sheer calculation and decisiveness. They aim toward the future with a sense of enthusiasm and an embrace of innovation.

Inspirational vision also includes providing training programs and opportunities for potential leaders, such as job shadowing or mentorships. This attention ensures that people feel seen and valued. They aren’t simply cogs in a wheel but part of the company’s development and growth.

Partnering and Relationship Building

Great leaders develop partnerships and build relationships. Just like no person is an island, no company rises through the work of one person alone.

This process might involve the development of relationships within the community, such as using regular vendors or contributing to philanthropic events. Other times, leaders forge connections with the executives of other companies, collaborating on different technologies that result in a singular successful product or innovation.

Among company managers and employees from office to office, partnerships and relationships are the foundation for successful careers and top-notch business results. A leader recognizes the importance of programs that teach how to overcome past obstacles to communication and collaboration so that the company and its individuals achieve a common goal.

Leadership Establishes a Culture of Learning and Growth

Effective leadership that establishes a corporate environment of learning and growth sets an example, much like a teacher, a parent, or a beloved older sibling does. Corporate leaders who show dedication, commitment, and a thirst for knowledge motivate employees.

Some people who feel confident and competent in their job often cringe at the idea they need additional guidance. Yet when corporate leadership sets a tone and expectation of learning for the sake of development and growth, employees’ expectations rise. They gain the ability to see past an immediate goal or training programs to the lasting benefit of this new practice.

Developing Organizational Leaders

Human resources professionals have a vital responsibility in ensuring a company’s longevity by training future leaders. Whether at the office level or throughout management, leadership training programs help develop the executives of tomorrow and provide for business success as these careers blossom.

Training Programs for Corporate Leaders

Training programs for corporate leaders cultivate a desire to achieve beyond one’s current individual level, which results in higher company performance and transforms the company into a leading force in its field. It’s a win-win for any company.

Leading executives don’t want to feel static. Today’s workforce is vastly different from that of five years or even a year ago, and great leaders understand the need to have the capabilities to negotiate this ever-changing landscape.

When they lead by example with this hunger for knowledge and growth, they plant the seeds for future leaders to learn competencies and skills that will allow them to address whatever business and personal challenges arise down the road.

What Is Corporate Leadership Training?

Although the individual strategies for companies and organizations might vary by industry, corporate leadership training programs typically involve tools and resources that assess a leader or job at the current level. These programs then provide leadership ideas to put into practice through components and elements such as:

  • Formal workshops, courses, and seminars
  • Developmental assignments
  • Coaching
  • Case studies
  • Simulations and exercises
  • Communication plans
  • Mentoring

Corporate leadership training programs are an investment, much like stocks or bonds but with far less risk. It qualifies high-quality individuals for additional responsibilities, strengthens the leadership conduit, and decreases employee turnover — all while boosting a company’s bottom line and competitive advantage.

Why Is Leadership Training Important?

Whether among executives or at the management or office level, leadership training programs inevitably improve morale and employee motivation. A person trained as a leader becomes more engaged in their job and naturally more productive.

In addition, corporate leadership training makes a business stronger overall. One study found that a company that implements executive and management training programs is 2.3 times more likely to outperform other companies on financial metrics.

Organizations that spend the time and resources to develop employees’ leadership skills and careers reap the benefits when everyone proves agile and flexible enough to shift gears rapidly in the face of market or personal complications. Such leadership knowledge also guides business leaders to execute company strategies more efficiently and effectively.

Positive Impact of Corporate Leadership Training

Corporate leadership training values company leaders for devoting resources to grow their people. It also motivates people through honest feedback and recognition instead of money.

Yet for all of these intangible benefits, corporate leadership training programs also have measurable business results. A joint study by the Conference Board and Development Dimensions International (DDI) surveyed 13,124 leaders and 1,528 global human resource executives (72% men and 28% women) from 2,031 organizations worldwide.

The report found the following benefits of leadership programs that target executives, managers, and employees:

  • Increased productivity: Companies that provided leadership training noticed 36% more productivity, specifically, a 48% rise in work product and quality. In fact, 90% of projects involved less rework.
  • Increased employee engagement: Thanks to leadership training, 56% of business leaders who get the information they need to succeed are more engaged compared with 44% of executives who lack such information.
  • Increased customer satisfaction: Among the companies studied, leadership training resulted in a 71% improvement in customer satisfaction.
  • Improved corporate culture: Organizations whose financial performance ranked in the top 20% had more women in leadership positions (about 37%) compared to companies ranking in the bottom 20% of financial performance. Those companies had fewer women in leadership positions (about 19%).
  • Increased organizational agility: Companies with leadership training programs can fill 26% of critical positions immediately. In addition, when leaders spend 40% of their time interacting with employees, they become more effective at fostering employee innovation, communicating, coaching and motivating others, and identifying future leaders.

Final Thoughts on Corporate Leadership

In any company or business environment, people might have diverse visions of what constitutes effective corporate leadership. Yet studies show that poor corporate leadership commonly entails an intimidating environment, poor communication, little interaction with team members, and an inability to lead by example.

Corporate leadership doesn’t grow in a vacuum, and executive management skills don’t evolve overnight. HR professionals play an integral part in corporate leadership training, even if they don’t have an on-site corporate leadership center.

Decades ago, HR professionals considered themselves administrators within a company or organization. Over time, they’ve transformed into viewing themselves as business partners, such as 60%  of the sample in the Conference Board/DDI study.

Yet when they view themselves as “anticipators,” HR professionals are more effective at proactively advising company management on strategies for success, predicting talent gaps, and closing those gaps by identifying up-and- coming leaders, this study notes.

HR professionals have the skills and resources that managers and other executives often don’t consider in daily business operations. Yet by working with the executive staff, HR professionals can strengthen and enhance the corporate leadership skills people in positions of power already have.

In addition, they can identify the managers of tomorrow and build that leadership foundation, making a business more flexible, competitive, and a leading force in the global marketplace.

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