Adam Bryant in conversation with students about the ambitions of business leaders.

Being a successful CEO requires a unique set of qualities that go beyond traditional business acumen. In this article, we will explore five key characteristics that separate exceptional CEOs from the rest. Let’s dive in!

1. Know How to Ask Questions


Successful CEOs understand the power of asking the right questions. Andrew Cosslett, CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, believes that asking questions is a valuable tool for effective management. By empowering employees to find their own solutions, CEOs can foster creativity and synergy within the company. Sometimes, the most breakthrough ideas come from simple questions like “Why are we doing it this way?” or “Is there a better way?”

2. Dare to Face and Overcome Adversity


Adversity is inevitable for any CEO. Nancy McKinstry, CEO of Wolters Kluwer, believes that the way CEOs approach challenges is crucial. Instead of blaming external circumstances, successful CEOs take ownership and find solutions. They embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. By facing adversity head-on, CEOs can inspire their teams and drive the company forward.

3. Be Like a Player Who Keeps the Rhythm of the Game


Building and leading a team is essential for a CEO’s success. Mark Pincus, CEO of Zynga Game Network, compares CEOs to players who keep the rhythm of a football game. They understand their team members’ strengths and weaknesses, fostering trust and collaboration. By truly knowing their employees, CEOs can create a supportive and engaged work environment.

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Susan Lyne, president of Gilt Groupe, emphasizes the importance of understanding employees as individuals, not just as professionals on a report.

4. Can Express Ideas in 10 Words


Effective CEOs possess the ability to articulate complex ideas concisely. They have a sharp focus and can communicate their vision in just a few words. For example, Steven A. Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, transformed the way meetings were conducted. Instead of lengthy presentations, he distributed materials in advance and used meetings to address key questions. This streamlined approach increased productivity and saved time for everyone involved.

5. Dare to Risk Change


In today’s dynamic business landscape, CEOs must be comfortable with change. They embrace discomfort, adapt to unforeseen circumstances, and are willing to take risks. Ursula M. Burns, Xerox CEO, believes that complacency is the ultimate downfall for a company. CEOs who dare to challenge the status quo and break the rules when necessary can drive sustainable growth and create new opportunities.

These five qualities of a successful CEO are essential for leading organizations to greatness. By embracing curiosity, resilience, team building, effective communication, and a willingness to take risks, CEOs can shape the future of their companies.

To learn more about the world of CEOs and business leadership, visit Caravansarai. Remember, great leaders are not born overnight; they are made through hard work, continuous learning, and the cultivation of these valuable qualities.