Being a successful business leader requires a lot of grit, mental stamina, and confidence, among hundreds of other qualities. But what are the top qualities that make or break a successful CEO?
Would you say that you have everything needed to be considered a top tier CEO in your sector? Perhaps there are still certain traits you need to work on? Over the next few pages CEO Today has collated what we believe to be the top 30 qualities every CEO should strive to embody. How many of these can you boast about?
Take the quiz now and find out just how close you are to becoming a top CEO!
1. CharismaYou’d think that to become a CEO takes all the charisma one could muster, but in many cases, a CEO lacks this one top quality. Charisma builds trust and inspiration in both employees and a company’s target audience or buyer, people look up to a CEO because of their relentless efficacy to attract awe and display charismatic flair through their voice, actions and lifestyle.
One way of developing charisma is through positive outward communication; encouraging, agreeing and being excited about ideas. These are all things that will make you a likeable CEO, and most would agree that being liked will get you places or at least that working with someone who is likeable makes the work easier. Being likable and communicating positively with others is helpful for a charismatic persona, however a balance must always be struck.
Executive Coach Caroline Dowd-Higgins says: “Being likable without being respected” is limiting to your career progression because “winning the popularity contest shouldn’t be your goal.”
“It’s natural to say you want to be liked and respected, but when forced to make a choice, I urge you to seek the respect of your co-workers and your boss because being nice is not enough. Being courteous and professional in the workplace is expected, but if one is too agreeable, passive, and overly-compassionate it may hinder your chances of getting promoted or working on prime assignments. Being overly-nice is probably not in your job description, so don’t succumb to the self-sabotaging behaviour.”
Do you have the charisma it takes?
2. ConfidenceConfidence is never about being brave or fearless, but about being sure and self-assured, poised in your decisions, thoughts and behaviour. Confidence conveys a sense of safety and support from those around you, meaning a confident CEO is a CEO that is trusted and looked up to by his or her employees. And when it comes to doing business, well we all know confidence is key.
In order to put your confidence to its best, it’s also necessary to display said confidence in the work you do as a CEO. One way to do this is in meetings, when questioned or in discussions, and particularly in the decisions you make.
According to data collected by the CEO Genome Project: “CEOs do not necessarily stand out for making great decisions all the time; rather, they stand out for being more decisive. They make decisions earlier, faster, and with greater conviction. They do so consistently—even amid ambiguity, with incomplete information, and in unfamiliar domains.”
The data showed that people described as “decisive” were 12 times more likely to become highly performing leaders.
Is confidence one of your strong suits?
3. LeadershipOne of our favourite quotes on leadership is this:
“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” —Bill Gates
As one of the biggest corporate leaders of our time, Bill Gates inspires, sets himself as an example and leads his employees by empowering them to grow. A leader is someone a CEO that serves the company and serves its customers. A leader is a CEO that drives the business by listening and actioning decisions based on those he or she has empowered from the start.
Most great leaders are heralded for their gift of speaking, however, listening is equally as important when leading. A CEO that listens to and understands his or her team’s ideas, needs or concerns drives the team together.
Small Business Trends reports that David Abney, Chairman and CEO of UPS, began his time as CEO by embarking on a worldwide listening tour. He listened to his employees and customers, took onboard what they said, and made use of that valuable resource in leading the company. He simply led by listening.
So, are you a leader?
4. Social SkillsAs a social CEO you network and build relationships with peers, your employees, your board of directors and other people who are influencers in your sector.
Networking takes very little effort and is a great tool to becoming a successful and versatile CEO. According to Aparna Mahadevan, Senior Solutions Architect for Amazon’s Alexa Skills Team, networking “helps you gain a greater understanding of the landscape outside of your own workplace and in turn, helps the outside world know more about you.”
On the other hand, getting to know your employees and close colleagues builds rapport and therefore trust and authenticity. In turn, authenticity is vital in cultivating a comfortable working environment. Gillian Wilmot, a mentor to CEOs and C suite executives for 10 years through BoardMentoring.com, says: “We tend not to talk about values and beliefs in business, but they are important as they drive the way we prioritise and make decisions."
“What we call authenticity and sense in others is the way we live our values, and people respond positively to authentic leaders who are comfortable in their own skins.”
Are you comfortable in your own skin and around others? Are you a social CEO?
5. CultureWhen it comes to culture, the buzzword for the workplace these days, deciding what that culture looks like is crucial; implementing it comes after. Your company’s culture should reflect your brand, and vice versa, and as a CEO, cultivating said culture will only go to strengthen your brand further. A great CEO is one that embodies that culture, does everything they can to employ workers that align with the company’s culture, and push for growth of the company’s culture in every relevant department. Forbes reports that at Zappos, a very successful shoe company led by CEO Tony Hsieh, “staff produce an annual culture book and has a game about getting to know fellow employees that pops up when they log in to the system each day.” In turn, this has led to a positive work culture, and one that breeds the company’s best brand ambassadors: its employees. Other culture based points that make a successful CEO include embodying the CEO culture in your own day to day, as you are also the CEO of your own life, and this in turn sets an example to employees; and encouraging a culture of health and wellbeing, whether that’s physical, mental or digital, as this creates a harmonious healthy balance for all both in and out of the workplace, producing better working employees in the long term.
Are you a CEO that fosters culture development?
6. ResilienceIn today’s business environment, resilience is essential to navigating the demanding and increasingly challenging framework involved in being a CEO. Resilience, coupled with a strong integrity, means a CEO won’t give up at the first hurdle, and if they do, they will get back up and try again, learning in doing so.
Harvard Business Review ran a survey in 2015, deducting that according to most respondents, resilience was defined as “the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity.”
However, resilience also means making a mistake, and not just pushing through it, but learning from it, improving on it, and aiming further for your goal. Without resilience, a CEO is very likely to fail and fail again, without getting any closer.
As Henry Ford puts it: “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
Are you a resilient CEO?
7. ManagementManagement sounds like it’s an obvious trait any CEO should have, but often CEOs simply don’t know how to manage; be it their employees, their time or their priorities.
One of today’s top challenges as a managing CEO is managing a mobile workforce; people on the go, making the most of a digital workspace. Seven time CEO, and currently the CEO of SevOne, Jack Sweeney says: “You must adapt yourself and your company to meet the needs of today’s employees. Now that I look back, I see today's ability to work anywhere as amazing…Either embrace the trend, or be left behind, because tomorrow’s best talent doesn’t want to work in yesterday’s office.”
Managing time is just as important, and whilst having a personal assistant can greatly increase efficiency and improve time keeping, simply using a calendar and checking the item regularly does make you a better manager of time. However, though time keeping is a vital trait for meetings and deadlines, prioritising tasks and managing realistic goals is important. If a task ends up taking a lot more time than you expected, but it’s vitally important you have it finished that same day, that’s fine right? Flexibility and balance are key in all aspects of management.
Would you say you handle management well?
8. Entrepreneurial SpiritBeing an entrepreneur is characterized by so many different elements, but being a CEO requires being an entrepreneur in everything you do. Take risks, live a little, market yourself well, experiment, pick yourself up, reach beyond your vision, etc. etc.
Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos puts it like this: “To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment. Most large organisations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there.”
An entrepreneur collaborates and networks, reaching out for help when needed, and involving others when it may benefit both parties, although networking should never be about helping yourself or gaining something. A CEO that lives like an entrepreneur will flourish, will set a great example for those with around him or her that carry the right ambition, and will reap the benefits of every investment they make, whether it’s through time, money or attention.
An entrepreneur is prepared to experiment. Are you?
9. MentoringBy mentoring, we don’t just mean a leader that can mentor and guide his or her employees, but a leader that is glad to be mentored in turn. A successful CEO should always have a mentor, whether that’s another CEO with further experience, an older fatherly figure, or their very own spouse. A mentor is key to challenging yourself and setting yourself goals, reaching those goals and pushing further. A mentor will be there to support you and uphold you. At the end of the day, if the CEO is not led in turn, are they truly fit to lead others?
Learning as you grow is all part of the journey, so if you’re the type of CEO that reads several books a week, buries themselves in educational videos and listens instead of always talking, then you likely have a well-developed mentoring trait. The truth is, having your thinking usefully challenged on a regular basis, will always work for the good of your organization. Harvard Business Review reports that according to a survey they ran, of “45 CEOs who have formal mentoring arrangements, 71% said they were certain that company performance had improved as a result.”
Are you making sure you are being mentored in some way?
10. CommitmentNow that you’re a CEO, you have to be committed in all these things. Without committing yourself and holding yourself accountable, you’re not going to see the success you’re aiming for.
In deciding, you must commit to the decisions you’ve mad. In pursuing a goal, you must commit to the cause. In leading, you must commit to the development of your employees and colleagues. In mentoring, you must commit yourself to learning and recognising your own flaws, committing to the further developing of that which you lack. In management, you must commit to what is best for the company, for everyone. In your lifestyle, you must commit to the CEO way and embodying the principles of what it is to be a successful CEO.
Commitment to an ideal, to an opinion, no hesitation. These are qualities that breed confidence and display integrity, as a person and as a businessperson.
Are you a committed CEO?
You have some way to go, but you have plenty of time and a lot of examples to pitch from. Perhaps take a look through the CEO Today website and learn a few things to up your game.
So, you have a few of these traits, but you’re still a little behind and could do with some help. Across the CEO Today website you can find resources and features that offer more than enough to become the successful CEO you’re aiming for.
You’ve got the business side of things down, or maybe you’re a little too flexible and so it’s hard to shine in other traits. Remember, stay focused and balanced, prioritise and plan.
It takes a strong person to admit they’re faults, so you’re already well on your way. Evaluate regularly and teach yourself new lessons, every day. You’ll soon be hitting those high goals.
You’re half way there. You just have to keep your head high and focus on where to improve. You’re already a great CEO and whether it’s through rigorous fast-paced development or a slower more relaxed learning curve, you’ll get there.
You currently outshine the average and have a great future ahead. Be the CEO you want to be, not the CEO that’s easiest to be. Who do you look up to? Perhaps you could learn a few things from them.
Just keep being you. You’re on the right track, but you still have a few obstacles to overcome. Stay resilient and keep networking, look up to your peers and lead by example.
You made it. You’re at the top of your game. You’re a top CEO and have a lot of success ahead of you. Keep the balance right, keep aiming higher and stay focused.
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