6 Key Personality Traits for Effective CEOs

Such traits include, but are not limited to, these six attributes:

1. Learning agility. According to the Korn Ferry Institute, the educational arm of human resources consultancy Korn Ferry, learning agility is “the willingness and ability to apply lessons learned from past experiences to new and first-time situations and challenges”—or knowing what to do when you don’t really have a clue what to do. CEOs and aspiring CEOs who possess this trait are easily adaptible to changing environments, and insatiably curious. They avoid defaulting to previously effective solutions and problem-solving tactics, instead applying fresh, varied approaches, ideas and solutions to new problems and unanticipated challenges.

2. Knack for building solid relationships. A 10-year longitudinal study of more than 2,700 business executives in leadership positions—conducted by consulting company Navalent and reported in a Harvard Business Review note—found that the ability to form “deep, trusting relationships” is the most “make it or break it” attribute of successful CEOs. The best CEOs, the Review said, develop such connections by “investing heavily in their own emotional and social intelligence, actively solicit feedback about how others experience them, and learn to be vulnerable with their shortcomings to create trust with others.”

3. Realistic optimism. In his book “Better Under Pressure,” executive assessment expert Justin Menkes, Ph.D., noted that leaders who possess this trait are confident, but neither irrational nor delusional about themselves. They pursue “audacious” goals others may perceive as “impossible pipe dreams,” while simultaneously remaining aware of the challenges that confront them and any difficulties they may face on the road ahead.

4. Caring nature. No matter CEOs’ competence, “not caring about your people or the organization’s mission will not get you very far,” according to Forbes. In the corporate world, “caring” means CEOs prioritize the organization above themselves and any personal interests. One way to demonstrate this is to follow the rule that “the troops eat first;” the other, to own one’s company’s failures as much as, or more than, its successes—and being happy to give others credit for the latter.

5. Willingness to be a “host” rather than a “hero.” Most CEOs and other high-ranking executives take a “heroic” approach to leadership, getting things done by “knowing more or working harder than anyone else,” Mark McKergow, Ph.D. and author of “Host: Six New Roles of Engagement for Teams, Organizations, Communities, Movement,” told Amex OPEN Forum, American Express’ online business publication. However, McKergow said, “the smart ones” eventually realize that the role of the leader “is more like a host than a hero” and entails “drawing people together around an issue or challenge, engaging them, and getting results through others.”

6. Flexibility to listen as much—or more than—talk. Just because CEOs are the ultimate decision-makers in most situations pertaining to their companies, doesn’t mean their opinions are the only ones that matter, according to Inc. Employees will be far more productive in environments where the CEO demonstrates a willingness to listen to any and all opinions—and actively solicits them through something “as simple as a suggestion box-style submission process, or as in depth as a series of personal interviews,” Inc. said.

Julie Ritzer Ross
Julie Ritzer Ross has been covering all facets of business in a variety of vertical markets, including manufacturing, for the past 35 years and the use of technology in business for the past 25 years. A two-time winner of a Jesse H. Neal Award for business-to-business journalism, her work has appeared in such publications as MICROSOFT EXECUTIVE CIRCLE, CONSUMER GOODS TECHNOLOGY (formerly CONSUMER GOODS MANUFACTURER), VERTICAL SYSTEMS RESELLER, RESELLER MANAGEMENT, RIS NEWS, and INTEGRATED SOLUTIONS.