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Blog: Top 5 CEO Leadership Traits

Google “What does it take to be a successful CEO?” and you will find yourself with no lack of information, research, ideas and assumptions to answer this question.  The challenge is you will also find that many of those answers contradict themselves.  Some answers to this question are reflective of common stereotypes, such as: “charisma, extroverted personality, visionary, quick problem solver, Ivy League education, male, confident, etc.”. 

The real question we should be asking, however, is: “Are the stereotypical traits of a CEO the true traits and characteristics that make for a successful CEO in 2020?”  Recent research suggests there is not a “one-size-fits-all/cookie-cutter” mold for the perfect CEO. 

The stereotypes that once defined the “ideal” candidate for many a Fortune 500 CEO positions do not hold true today (HBR, What Sets Successful CEOS Apart, May-June 2017 issue). 

The good news is this: as we learn more about what it takes to be a successful CEO through empirical research, we shatter the stereotypes of what has, historically, defined an “ideal CEO,” and allow for a more diverse group of leaders to emerge.

Harvard Business Review embarked on a 10-year study (The CEO Genome Project) to identify the behaviors and traits of executives who either met or exceeded the expectations of their role.   

According to research conducted by the Conference Board in the years 2000 – 2013, 25% of CEOs departing from their Fortune 500 positions left involuntarily. This lets us know the traits, characteristic and behaviors of leaders in those position were not effective. For example, although Boards and Investors are drawn to extraverts who are charismatic, research shows that introverts more regularly surpass expectations. Additionally, only 7% of high-performing CEOs in The CEO Genome Project Study had an Ivy League education and 8% did not even graduate from college!

And what about charisma?Surely a successful CEO must have charisma!?  A new study suggests that too much charisma can actually be a bad thing for a business leader(“How much charisma does a leader need?” – Cosmos – The Science of Everything – May, 2017, Amy Middleton).  Middleton found that medium levels of charisma are ideal for effective business leadership. Although charismatic leaders may be strong on vision and strategy, they often struggle with the operational side of things.

So, if stereotypical leadership traits like charisma and education don’t predict success, what does it to be a successful CEO?  The following five traits and behaviors, according to research, are key:

 Hopefully these 5 leadership traits discussed in this article will help you be a successful leader.The last thought I want to share with you is that I don’t think there is a leader out there who is 100% at all of these traits 100% of the time… but hopefully they are being consistent in working to further develop these skills.  
Remember, becoming a high performing CEO is a journey not a destination.  I would love to hear your feedback and throughs on this article and what you think it takes to be a successful CEO.

MSBCoach is committed to partnering with leaders and teams to identify their True North.  One's true north includes living into your values, identifying what it means to you to be your authentic self, and practicing emotional intelligence.  Leadership, executive, and team coaching are effective ways to help leaders and their teams put these principles into practice.  We also offer engaging workshops in being an authentic leader, emotional intelligence, identifying your values, and many others.  You can check out our coaching processes and our list of workshops here.

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