Successful CEOs all share a core set of traits that set them apart from other candidates. These traits help fuel the high performance that their companies achieve — and some of them may come as a surprise.
In fact, a 10-year research study conducted by the CEO Genome Project (whose goal is to identify the specific traits that differentiate high-performing CEOs), as reported on by Harvard Business Review, revealed that some assumptions people hold about successful CEOs aren’t all that reliable. CEOs aren’t necessarily Ivy Leaguers, and about half of them have had major career failures before they graduate into the top job. Another surprise: introverts actually outperform extroverts as CEOs. Also, confidence helps CEOs to get the job but it has no relation to their performance. Take a look at some of the other key traits shared by successful CEOs.
1. Successful CEOs Inspire and Impact Others
A great CEO doesn’t run their business alone. They must inspire their employees and stakeholders with a vision and motivate them to create the results everyone wants to see. Strong CEOs engage with their teams, don’t shy away from conflict, and remain aware at all times that their communication with their employees sets the tone for success.
2. Great CEOs Are Decisive
It can be paralyzing to be in a position of power and not know what to do next — but that’s a stance no CEO can ever be found in. Yes, you want to gather the information you need to make smart choices, but if you take too long to make decisions, your whole enterprise will founder and fail. Top CEOs know that making the wrong decision is usually better than making no decision.
3. They Have Strong Emotional Intelligence
The CEO sets the tone for their entire company, for better or for worse. CEOs with great emotional intelligence understand how to keep their employees feeling valued and how to make their customers feel appreciated. When a CEO with strong emotional intelligence expresses their own personal struggles or communicates their core values, stakeholders feel seen and heard and become more devoted to the company.
4. They Communicate a Strong Vision
CEOs are responsible to communicate an organization’s mission and vision clearly and proudly. They stand as the face of the organization to the outside world, but they also must keep everyone inside the gates focused on achieving the company’s mission. When each employee feels a sense of purpose, you can tell a strong CEO is setting the tone.
5. They Show a History of High Performance
Any successful CEO will show a history of stepping up to meet challenges repeatedly. Yes, they do make mistakes from time to time. Across their careers, however, great CEOs can produce positive results reliably. They have strong track records, which include a history of taking on leadership positions even when they were risky.
6. Successful CEOs Are Humble
Yes, CEOs are also self-confident and understand their own capabilities. Underlying that confidence, however, they also know their own limitations. When a CEO tries to seek fame through their position, the company is likely to suffer. When, instead, they seek the best for their company and their employees, they provide the type of motivation and vision that puts ego in the back seat and leads organizations to success.
Whether you’re promoting from within or hiring a CEO from outside your company, understanding these vital traits can help you make the right choice to lead your organization to success in the future.
By Fernando Ortiz-Barbachano
President & CEO of Barbachano International (BIP)
Barbachano International is the premier executive search and leadership advisory firm in the Americas with a focus on diversity and multicultural target markets. Outplacement and Executive Coaching services are provided by our sister allied company Challenger Gray & Christmas. BIP has been recognized by Forbes as Americas’ Best Executive Search Firms and currently ranks #27 and #3 on the West Coast.