10 traits, habits of strong CEOs

Nicole Smartt is co-owner and vice president of Petaluma-based Star Staffing.


Being part of the upper echelons of a corporation takes a special mix of life experience and strong personal traits. Life experience just takes time, of course, but personal traits are something that can be developed.

Here are 10 key personal traits and habits that strong CEOs share:

1. Attention to company culture

Glassdoor recently revealed findings from a study that shows CEOs who paid attention to overall employee satisfaction saw 36.9 percent improvement in their CEO approval rating. Positive employee sentiment is linked firmly to the company’s financial performance.

2. Willing to take calculated risks

The operative word here is “calculated,” not “careless.” Powerful CEOs do their research, anticipate mistakes, set checkpoints and goals, and are willing and ready to pivot in another direction when needed.

3. Surrounded themselves with great leaders

Even a seasoned executive needs a sounding board of people who can offer guidance, particularly in areas that fall outside of her core expertise.

4. Biased toward action

Being a leader means making decisions and taking action. Those decisions should, of course, be informed by research. If you put in the time, work and effort, you can trust yourself to make the tough calls.

5. Offer career opportunities

Top CEOs know they didn’t get where they are without promotions, learning opportunities and mentorship. Because of this, they’re willing to ensure those opportunities for their staff.

6. Focuses on compensation

Fair compensation sends the message that the company values its employees as much as its customers. The best CEOs do their best, within the confines of their budgets, of course, to compensate employees well.

7. Rallies team around higher purpose.

Surprisingly, Glassdoor’s research found that higher satisfaction with work-life balance predicted lower CEO approval ratings. This suggests that though many employees value work-life balance, working for a visionary leader may be worth some extra work. High-performing teams may work hard, but the hard work brings satisfaction.

8. Think like a founder

Many founder-CEOs are able to impart the vision and passion that got the company off the ground in their efforts to inspire employees. Mission-driven passion is contagious, and the continuous drive to innovate defines many entrepreneurs, even in companies many decades old.

9. Not hung up on stereotypes

It turns out that CEOs’ gender, age and education have very little to do with their approval ratings. Workers take an egalitarian approach to evaluating their CEOs, looking objectively at company culture, performance and pay as indicators of satisfaction. Wise CEOs keep their eyes on those, more important, signals.

10. Always learning

Warren Buffett says, “I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. So I do more reading and thinking, and make less impulse decisions than most people in business.” For those at the top, it can be extremely difficult to carve out quiet time. But with that quiet contemplation comes clarity. Invest in yourself.

The CEO truly does set the company tone. If you’re already leading in that capacity, incorporate as many of these traits and habits as possible. If you’re on your way up and a CEO position is your goal, start working on developing these skills and attitudes as you can. It’s never too soon to better yourself!