Ask leadership experts about the traits shared by successful CEOs and you’ll likely get a roundup of the usual answers:
- Positive thinking
No argument here. Effective CEOs must demonstrate these qualities in order to inspire others and create a viable roadmap for the growth of the business.
However, the best leaders possess a host of other unique traits that set them apart from their less-effective counterparts. Here are some unexpected characteristics that truly gifted chief executives and other leaders demonstrate in their daily lives.
They listen. Faced with challenging situations or intriguing opportunities, CEOs have to make key decisions about their companies all the time. For some, this tends to encourage an ethos of self-reliance in which the opinions of others are relegated to secondary status — “I’m the decision maker, so I have to go by what my own gut and experience tell me.”
Other CEOs are committed to listening, whether to their executive team or to front-line employees who may have key insights into customer preferences and behavior. Employees who feel they’re being heard are more engaged in their jobs and the companies they work for.
As Jason Demers, CEO of AudienceBloom, says, “You just have to let people know their voices are heard.”
They’re willing to display emotion. Demonstrating passion for the business is considered a necessary leadership quality, but that’s not the same thing as sharing emotions like “normal” human beings. Some leaders prefer a more buttoned-up approach, fearing that displays of emotion might undermine their patina of authority.
Business strategist Drake Baer uses the leadership skills of Martin Luther King to illustrate what’s known as “emotional agility” — where effective leaders respond to emotions as they arise, instead of squashing them or pretending they don’t exist. As with MLK, Jr., he says, the emotions are “usually so strong that employees catch on and want to join the ‘movement’ they are working towards.”
They don’t take themselves too seriously. CEOs by their very nature tend to have large, if not overpowering egos. Though the most effective leaders understand the importance of humility. Being conscious of one’s personal limitations, rather than striving to be an expert in all areas, not only makes a leader more accessible to his/her followers, it demonstrates a willingness to seek expertise wherever they can find it.
They know people by name. Are you the type of CEO who strolls through the workplace and waves hello at employees, without having any idea who they are? It’s not enough to wander out of the executive suite and make a “personal appearance” from time to time. Genuinely effective leaders strive to learn and retain the names of employees (as much as possible). This creates an essential bond with people and inspires them to be more productive in their jobs.
They can change perspective. Strong leaders instinctively know how to size up a situation and determine the best course of action. What sets the strongest CEOs apart is what Hayden Shaughnessy, co-author of “The Elastic Enterprise,” calls “an ability to ‘reframe’.” Their mental and psychological flexibility enables them to avoid getting locked into a particular way of thinking, and to keep those around them free of such limiting perspectives as well.
“Leaders need a consummate ability to see things differently,” Shaughnessy says.
They’re unafraid of failure. CEOs don’t reach the pinnacle of success by consistently failing at what they do. This sometimes engenders an aversion to risk-taking — a supremely restrictive trait, since taking risks and willing to embrace failure are essential components in the 21st century marketplace.
By contrast, the most effective leaders grasp the importance of “surviving” a failed project or initiative, and creating a culture in which they and their employees gain valuable knowledge and avoid making the same mistakes twice.
They create moments. Successful CEOs are keenly attuned to their internal culture and ready to seize situations that generate deeper employee engagement and organizational turning points. As Glenn Llopis, a former C-suite corporate executive notes, these leaders “create a special moment to inspire and inform the organization” and make employees feel “that they are willing to fight the fight with you at all times.”
These unique traits aren’t necessarily something great leaders are born with, but they are qualities CEOs can learn and incorporate into their evolving leadership styles.
Christian Moore is the COO at Global Verification Network. He brings more then 20 years of experience to the company and they specialize helping businesses hire high level executives through due diligence investigations.