Originally Posted by oman
to answer your question, i'm trying to figure out what specific qualities make certain people more capable of running a company, so that i can cultivate these qualities in myself
Although there are many paths from sleeping your way to the top, having the executive team's jet go down and you being the sole survivor, here are my humble two cents (in no particular order):
1. Network. All power in an organization rests with individuals; your peers, your boss, your boss' boss, etc. Most of your colleagues are divided into two camps - those who want to get ahead and those who are in support and happy at their level (HR, Finance, IT, etc.). Having the political acumen to get all their disparately motivated intentions on your side will impress the hell out of your boss and show that you can do his or her job. Politics = collaboration. The more relationships you have, the more trust you build, the less resistance you'll have when you need their support. Even if you have a plan that proves numerically and logically it'll save the entire company, half the company will fight you because you lack a relationship with them. Persuasion is more than just showing the facts. Success at the executive level is about relationships *and* results. Doing just the latter won't open that final door.
2. Over-delegate. Those that make it to the executive rank typically delegate like crazy - anything and everything that comes across their desk. People get mired in middle management because they still do actual "work"; i.e. you're putting in GL entries or reconciling when you're a Finance manager. Delegation develops staff.
3. Hire well. People who tend to get promoted up and above middle management are the ones who exhibit the ability to hire great people. Other peer managers will be raving "God that guy has some great people on his team" or "Where does he find these people?!"
4. Coach well. Invest in your people. Develop a relationship with them. You give opportunities for your folks to shine. They get promoted. You care about them and won't throw them under a bus. A great coaching leader is somewhat like a good sergeant, he takes care of them compensation wise, has a great relationship with his directs (down to each direct's children's names) and knows their personality and character and what motivates them. If you talk to a successful executive's directs, they'll probably say, "Man is it tough to work for XYZ but it's so worth it in the end." You want to cultivate a situation where your team will sacrifice and do things for the sarge so they'll keep charging up hills for you.
5. Be a part of whatever raison d'etre your company does. All great managers can have stellar results but your results will be known if you're part of the company that makes money or saves money. Makes money is better. So if you're in a company that sells toilet paper, you *have* to get yourself into that chain, preferably sales, if not then at least making the toilet paper, because sitting in HR talking about how you kept retention at the company close to 100% matters less to the powers that promote people compared to if you increased top or bottom line for them.