Stanford Business School's assistant dean offers 'Five Es' for leadership success

Kirsten Moss
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Graduation Day At HHL Business School
Having worked with a variety of leaders throughout my career, I’ve come to realise that leadership performance is closely related to their behaviour (Source: Getty)

What distinguishes an extraordinary leader from an ordinary one?

Having worked with a variety of leaders throughout my career, I’ve come to realise that leadership performance is closely related to their behaviour. The way they act towards and around their team is integral to forming strong relationships with the team members they want to influence.

Think of a leader you’ve respected. It may be a boss, a colleague, or even someone you didn’t directly work with. Whoever they are, they have almost certainly nailed what I call the “Five Es”, behaviours that promote successful leadership and create a lasting, positive impact.

If you want to emulate those trusted and respected leaders, these are the behaviours you need to work at making second nature:


Great leaders identify a clear future direction for their organisation. They do this by challenging assumptions to uncover new insights and opportunities, then sharing these with their team. Identify critical issues and stimulate discussions that lead to action.


Set challenging goals, and identify ways to achieve them. Anticipate problems – and solve them – before they arise; recognise and take up opportunities outside the obvious; take calculated risks with the courage and confidence to say: “this is what we’re doing, and this is how we’re doing it.”


Ideas without action are pointless. Leaders encourage and influence others to act on their vision. Talk to people, and build relationships with them, as individuals to instil a sense of mission and urgency in the team.


Leaders don’t succeed by working alone. They help enhance their team’s capabilities by challenging them, while continuing to provide the right level of encouragement and support. Be proactive about the development of their team, and take time to celebrate individual efforts. The best leaders provide recognition and constant constructive feedback.


Potentially the most difficult of the Es to achieve, but both a product and facilitator of all the others. Building trust and respect requires a leader to share values, express humility and show an element of vulnerability. Trusted leaders manage conflicts and display gratitude, which are crucial to earning respect and loyalty.

The Five Es will come easily to the few “natural born leaders” among us, but for most people it takes work to cultivate them and put them into practice. 360-degree feedback – from supervisors, peers, and direct reports – can reveal how effectively you are currently exemplifying them, and highlight areas for development and ways to achieve that.

My own research has found that people who are driven to solve a problem greater than themselves tend to exhibit these five essential leadership behaviours more often. That’s why part of the admissions process at the Stanford Graduate School of Business asks applicants to reflect on their personal values. We encourage students to pursue wider interests.

In the corporate world, as in the classroom, pushing yourself to develop the Five Es can have a significant and lasting impact on your leadership credentials.

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