7 Personality Traits Every CEO Should Have
When people hear the title of CEO, those three letters that command respect, they tend to imagine a relentless titan on a quest for entrepreneurial greatness. What comes to mind is the fiery temperament of a visionary like Steve Jobs, or the competitive drive of a leader like Travis Kalanick. But according to a study by Harvard Business Review, not every CEO shares these brash qualities.
Watch on Forbes: Surveying the psychometric profiles of 200 global CEOs, the Harvard study revealed that best-in-class CEOs do not necessarily share the stereotypical qualities associated with the role, such as extroversion or the ability to be cunning and self-promotional. Instead, they shared more traditional qualities, such as a strong sense of self-awareness, prioritization skills and, most of all, a willingness to listen and hear new ideas from their fellow leaders. Whether you are an aspiring or recently appointed CEO, or a seasoned veteran fine-tuning your skills, here are 7 qualities every CEO should have in order to remain successful over the long term:
1. Curiosity People confuse leadership with being in a position that comes with the title of “leader.” According to Cameron Herold, one of the leaders in the world of business growth and C-suite leadership, “The smartest CEOs are vulnerable, open to hearing what they don't know, and are always trying to learn.” The CEOs who remain open to learning are the ones who continue to live at their growth edge. In fact, one of their greatest skills is being able to know what they don’t know, and then spending their time and energy filling that gap.
2. Purpose According to McKinsey, CEOs tend to show a greater sense of purpose and passion for what they do than other members of company leadership. This can be positive, as they move swiftly and effectively to accomplish goals, as well as negative, when this intensity turns into impatience. As a CEO, it’s crucial to uphold standards and fulfil your duties as a leader.
3. Risk CEOs who are successful in leading transformative change within a company (and sometimes within an entire industry) are able to embrace risk in a way that differs from the other members of their leadership team. However, an aversion to risk is not the same as being extroverted. As the Harvard Business Review study noted, extroversion is by no means standard for CEOs. A willingness to take risks, however, was found to be a dominant trait for those playing the role of CEO.
4. Organization Some CEOs might not be organized in the conventional sense, as in maintaining a clean and tidy desk, but all successful CEOs remain organized in their approach to solving problems within the business. Organized thinking and knowing which issues are tangential and which are priorities are crucial for effective leadership. Without organized thinking, problems begin to mount and can conceal the core issues. Great CEOs have a knack for seeing past the noise.
5. Communication According to a Navalent study, top executives share an ability to remain consistent in their forms of communication. They are able to convey information in language that keeps parties neutral, does not cause or instigate conflict and is easily understandable so that effective action can be taken. Most CEOs know the value of soft skills, and many devote time and effort to refining their communication skills for the betterment of the team and company as a whole.
6. Realistic Optimism There is a difference between having your head in the clouds, daydreaming about ideas that sound great in theory but have no real-world application, and realistic optimism. The greatest CEOs are able to toe the line and remain curious and grounded simultaneously. They are extremely aware of the pieces on the chessboard, and how certain moves will affect the position of the company, but they are also willing to consider solutions others might deem unconventional. This goes back to a CEO’s willingness to take risks, and the importance of that quality in leading a company to success.
7. Vision And finally, it’s the vision of the CEO that dictates the future of the company. Without vision, a CEO is merely a celebrated facilitator. Without vision, they are no better than a seasoned manager. The greatest CEOs find ways to continue exploring and nurturing their vision, and ways of testing their vision in the real world without putting their company in danger. But more important, they also remain open to the feedback of others, especially the rest of their leadership team, to help them refine and develop their vision for the company. While they may be in the driver’s seat, the most successful CEOs do not believe themselves to be a one-person show. In order to be an effective CEO, you have to be both confident in your abilities and willing to admit your faults. You have to be certain of your decisions but open to feedback and adjustment. Finally, you have to be dedicated to your vision while continuing to ask questions and consider other potential outcomes. You have to master the duality of effective business leadership.