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Successful CEOs Possess Five Traits That Set Them Apart from the Rest

Successful CEOs Possess Five Traits That Set Them Apart from the Rest

Research shows that successful CEOs possess certain traits that are developed through attitude, habit and discipline—factors that are within their control. They have learned first-hand that the following traits set them apart and lead to success:

Passionate curiosity. In business, CEOs are supposed to project confidence, but successful executives are passionately curious people. They ask big-picture questions. They wonder why things work the way they do and whether those things can be improved upon.

Their greatest contributions to their organizations may be asking the right questions. They recognize that they cannot have the answer to everything, but they can push their company in new directions and harness the collective energy of their employees by asking the right questions.

This relentless questioning leads entrepreneurs to spot new opportunities and helps managers understand the people who work for them.

Battle-hardened confidence. Battlehardened confidence is the ability to handle adversity, embrace it and overcome it. The best predictor of behavior is past performance, and that is why interviewers often ask job candidates about how they dealt with past failures. They want to know if somebody is the kind of person who takes ownership of challenges or starts looking for excuses.

Many successful CEOs seem driven by a strong work ethic forged in adversity. As they moved up in organizations, the attitude remained the same: this is my job, and I am going to own it. Because of that attitude, they were rewarded with more challenges and promotions.

People’s outlooks and beliefs about what leads to success and failure in their lives carry over to their performance at work. Do they tend to blame failures on factors they cannot control, or do they believe they have the ability to shape events and circumstances by making the most of what they can control? Successful CEOs have a positive attitude mixed with a sense of purpose and determination. People who have that mixture will take on, and own, any assignment thrown their way.


Team smarts. The most effective executives are more than team players. They understand how teams work and how to get the most out of the group. One aspect of the team smarts is reliability—they rarely make a mistake. Another is having good peripheral vision for sensing how people react to one another, not just how they act. You can tell when your team is really listening and engaged. Good CEOs have the ability to recognize the players, the team needs and how to bring them together around a common goal. Team smarts means they are able to build a team, manage a team, recruit well and work well with their peers. People who truly succeed in business are the ones who have figured out how to mobilize people who are not their direct reports.

A simple mindset. The ability to synthesize, to connect dots in new ways and to ask simple, smart questions can lead to untapped opportunities. Many smart executives ask to have materials for a project or a meeting sent to them in advance so they can prepare specific questions, which leads to greater focus.

Fearlessness. Risk-taking is often a quality associated with entrepreneurs. But risk-taking does not quite capture the quality that many CEOs embody, look for and encourage in others. With the business world in seemingly endless turmoil, maintaining the status quo— even when things appear to be working well—is only going to put you behind the competition. Smart CEOs undertake calculated and informed risk-taking. And they want their staff to do the same rather than just doing what they are told. Fearlessness is one of the top qualities that successful CEOs often say they look for in job candidates.

Fearlessness is an attitude, and because attitude is one of the few things over which everyone has complete control, it is a character trait that can be developed through a simple approach to taking more risks.

These five qualities make CEOs successful standouts. If you develop these qualities, they will make you a better employee, manager and leader.


Ed Tock is a partner with REX Roundtables, which runs roundtables for business owners and chief executives. As a consultant, he has worked with more than 1,000 clubs since 1983. He can be reached at 845-736-0307.

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