CEO Insider

What Makes a Truly Successful CEO? These 20 Traits

At the head of your company’s C-Suite is a powerful visionary who holds the reins of the business: the chief executive officer (CEO). If you’re in that role, or aspire to be, you will of course want to be the best CEO possible.

What qualities set stellar CEOs apart from all the rest? Just like highly effective people follow certain habits, and successful entrepreneurs do, too, current and future CEOs will truly shine when they make a habit of these twenty qualities.

  1. Being Credible

You must be believable in every circumstance. The best way to do this is simple: tell the truth 100% of the time. When people see that your words align with your actions, they will trust and believe in you.

  1. Showing Competence

You know how to do your job, but what about the jobs of everyone who works for you? A stellar CEO should be able to do any job in the company with humble confidence.

  1. Being Caring

Being caring means putting others first. Call out the successes of others and show genuine interest in both their personal and work lives.

  1. Knowing People’s Names

Take a seating chart home and study it, or use mnemonic devices; your goal is to know the name of everyone you meet as you lead your company. If you’re interacting with someone whose name you don’t know, ask, but do it gracefully.

  1. Empowering People

“Real leadership is when everyone else feels in charge,” says Bono, lead singer of U2, in an interview with Fortune. Do those people who report directly to you feel in charge—not just in charge of their teams but also of the direction their division is taking and how success is measured? Empower people as they work to ensure everyone feels capable in their respective roles.

  1. Talking to Customers

Don’t leave it exclusively to the sales team to know the needs of the people who are keeping your company in business.

  1. Leading by Example

Hold the elevator door, say “thank you” to mail room worker, and be on time for meetings. People notice the little ways you lead and will follow.

  1. Becoming an Avid Reader

You may feel that there’s simply not enough time in the day to read. However, you really can’t afford not to read what your competition is publishing or what your staff members are reading.

The tempo of business and market forces are changing, and, according to research by Deloitte, such change “demands leaders navigate constant turbulence, continuously adjusting their actions accordingly.”

  1. Embracing Ingenuity

Focus on two very different things at once across the organization: short-term goals and long-term deep dives into the unknown. For example, the leader of a car company might focus on building standard cars while exploring something as ingenious as DIY electric cars that come in a kit.

  1. Accepting Failure and Moving Forward

Have a clear vision about how you want to change the world, with the understanding that there will be some failures along the way. Don’t take them personally.

  1. Encouraging a Beginner’s Mindset

Based on Zen Buddhism, this trait involves forgetting what you know and learning to look at it with a beginner’s mind. Un-disruptable CEOs are willing to give up the role of being the smartest person in the room and instead become the most curious.

  1. Moving with the Flow

In Jiu-Jitsu, participants learn to anticipate their opponents’ attacks and move with them to gain power over their opponent. By moving with the flow of your industry and anticipating your competitors’ moves, you can better guide your company in the right direction.

  1. Listening to Your Customers

Understand your customer experience from start to finish. Listen, listen, and listen some more to your customers—especially what they post on social media.

  1. Being Comfortable with Chaos

Reinvention typically leads to chaos, so get comfortable with it as you reinvent the way your company (or entire sector) does business.

  1. Embracing Conflict

Don’t be afraid of disagreements, especially in a start-up environment. Solving them will help define your company’s direction.

  1. Being Hard on Problems, Not People

This is one you likely learned in kindergarten, and it still applies as you lead an organization. By being hard on issues and not on people, you show your employees that you want to focus on problem-solving techniques—and that you want their help to find solutions instead of placing blame.

  1. Encouraging Healthy Debate

You won’t always be right. Encourage debate and accept that even though you are at the helm, your shipmates have just as much invested in getting things right as you do.

  1. Demonstrating a Strong Sense of Purpose

Be bold as you execute your company’s strategy. That boldness shows your employees how much you value your business’s mission and purpose.

  1. Getting Reliable Information

CEOs get a lot of information from many sources; the best leaders can “separate the signal from the noise” and determine who you can and can’t trust.

  1. Focusing Outward

Put your emphasis on outcomes for the organization rather than on results for yourself. Focusing outward requires being open minded and willing to let the best ideas emerge from your teams. A world-class CEO fosters those ideas through listening, learning, and sharing credit.

What steps are you taking to build these traits? Are there other qualities you find equally compelling in terms of changing your role as CEO from good to great to world class? Which item on the list will you begin practicing wholeheartedly today?

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Dr. Amarendra Bhushan Dhiraj
Dr. Amarendra Bhushan Dhiraj is the CEO and editorial director at CEOWORLD magazine, the leading global business magazine written strictly for CEOs, CFOs, top managers, company directors, investors, senior executives, business leaders, and high net worth individuals.
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