7 Best Traits of Successful CEOs


traits of successful ceos

A recent study measured successful CEOs for the Big 5 personality traits (openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, and stability) and found the closest correlation with conscientiousness.

The authors of the study, Steven Kaplan, Mark Klebanov and Morten Sorensen (“Which C.E.O. Characteristics and Abilities Matter?”) relied on detailed personality assessments of 316 C.E.O.’s and measured their companies’ performances. So where do you think you are on the conscientiousness scale? What traits of successful CEOs do you have?

Here are some sample questions:

  • I am always prepared.
  • I am exacting in my work.
  • I follow a schedule.
  • I get chores done right away.
  • I like order.
  • I pay attention to details.
  • I leave my belongings around. (reversed)
  • I make a mess of things. (reversed)
  • I often forget to put things back in their proper place. (reversed)
  • I shirk my duties. (reversed)

Regardless of whether you think you score high or low on this scale, you should not leap to the conclusion that these are the most important traits of successful CEOs. On the contrary, I can point to dozens of case studies in which passion, honorable behavior, and humility played a much greater role in defining successful leaders and successful companies. The real difference between the successful and not-so-successful CEO has nothing to do with personality. It has to do with traits that are learned, like persistence, efficiency, analytic thoroughness and the ability to work long hours. It would be easy to miss this point if you were inclined to put too much faith in nature, not nurture.

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