Common denominators of the most successful CEOs

a man with pink hair has one of the 4 traits of the most successful ceos

Warren Buffett pioneered Berkshire Hathaway. Jeff Bezos changed our shopping experience with Amazon. Steve Jobs revolutionized technology with Apple.

They are some of the most influential CEOs and company leaders of our time. Having built successful companies, they are known for their business acumen.

But what are some of the traits successful CEOs share? And are CEOs known for their kindness?

Table of contents
Virtuoso CEOs
Requirements for success
Negative common denominators
Traits of successful business leaders
Is character holding back your career?

Virtuoso CEOs

A 2015 study by leadership consultancy KRW International pooled info from employees at 84 U.S. companies. With guaranteed anonymity, the employees were able to honestly rate their bosses’ character.

The results? CEOs with higher marks for character (dubbed “virtuoso CEOs”) had nearly FIVE times more return on assets than those with low character ratings (“self-focused” CEOs). That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Requirements for success

But what makes a “good character”? According to the study, virtuoso CEOs were valued for their integrity, responsibility, forgiveness, and compassion.

We’re of course not surprised to hear this at all. In our scientific study of highly successful entrepreneurs, “tolerance” was one of the attitudes more likely to be seen in entrepreneurial leaders who had started and sold their businesses for between $6m-$1.2b.

In the workplace, this doesn’t mean holding hands and singing Kumbayah. It’s simply accepting each person and allowing their unique qualities to shine for the business. (The F4S app can definitely help with this!)

Negative common denominators

On the other hand, the study showed self-focused CEOs simply cared about themselves. They bent the truth, made empty promises, were quick to punish, and threw employees under the bus.

Yep, that sounds a little extreme. But our F4S research has also found a link between less successful entrepreneurs and a lack of interest to work with people and less desire to engage with their team members on a personal level.

Traits of successful business leaders

Of course, compassion and forgiveness are not an excuse to be a pushover. In fact, virtuoso CEOs were also better at accountability, focus, strategy, and vision than their less-than-friendly counterparts.

We’ve found the same. Optimally, the most successful people always put their business’ achievements first and foremost. But, in today’s world, taking the time to listen and bond with your team can actually help you get there faster and increase your chances of success.

“Telling others what to do may get the job done, but it does not necessarily activate the creativity or hearts and minds of your team,” says founder and CEO of F4S, Michelle Duval.

“Ask questions, invite input, and be open to your team challenging your ideas. This facilitates critical thinking and ultimately an empowered team that can think on their own.”

Is character holding back your career?

Here’s the real kicker – self-focused CEOs gave themselves considerably higher marks than their team did. But virtuoso CEOs rated themselves lower, showing humbleness and a drive to improve.

At the end of the day, a low character score doesn’t make you a bad CEO (or person). We simply call this a “blind spot” and it can be symptomatic of many things, like a lack of genuine feedback or habits that have formed over time.

What’s important is that good character and leadership skills can be learned, as long as you’re open and willing to work on them.

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