Strategies & Tactics

The Search for Common CEO Traits

January 5, 2018

[andy zito]
[andy zito]

Successful CEOs have different philosophies and life stories, but they tend to share some common characteristics. Adam Bryant, author of the Corner Office feature at The New York Times, has interviewed 585 CEOs during the past decade. He recently rounded up some recurring traits of chief executives for a column at the paper.

He found that:

  • CEOs are curious about the world around them. “They tend to question everything,” Bryant writes. “They want to know how things work, and wonder how they can be made to work better. They’re curious about people and their back stories.”
  • CEOs have a willingness to endure discomfort. Reaching the top of a company requires hard work and sacrifice. However, to thrive as a leader, you have to welcome the challenge and the pain. “Usually, I really like whatever the problem is,” banking CEO Arkadi Kuhlmann told Bryant. “I like to get close to the fire.”
  • CEOs focus on the present. While they might have big goals, executives don’t let those objectives distract them from their current workload. “That doesn’t mean keeping ambition in check,” Bryant writes. “By all means, have career goals, share them with your bosses, and learn everything you can about how the broader business works.” — Greg Beaubien

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