What Makes A Good CEO?

by Adam Trouncer - 1 year ago

What makes a good CEO? Someone who looks beyond the title, beyond managing people, to a deeper understanding of leadership.

Leaders inspire and influence people. They help their team members grow as individuals. They have the power to improve lives.

Being a leader is not so simple as having the entire room scramble to get you a cup of coffee as you walk through the door. Intimidation and a well cut suit will only get you so far.

Let’s go over a few items on the laundry list of valuable traits a CEO would be wise to cultivate in order to obtain a position of true leadership.

What Makes A Great CEO

Leadership First, Management Second

Fortune lists some of the World’s Greatest Leaders, from government and business, to philanthropy and the arts.

There’s Theo Epstein, the Chicago Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations, who focused on developing a deeper understanding of the human qualities of his players.

There’s Ava DuVernay, who became the first African-American woman to direct a film nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award (and who is about to break another record – the first black woman to direct a movie with a $100 million budget: Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time).

And there’s H.R. McMaster, the U.S. National Security Adviser, who in 1991, led a tank troop to victory over Iraqi forces in Operation Desert Storm, later penning military classic Dereliction of Duty.


CEO @Arturo Pardavila III Theo Epstein OPTIMISED

Theo Epstein; Photo Credit: Arturo Pardavila III

These are all very different individuals – but all are classed as leaders in their field.

Leadership Aspirations?

While the ‘leader’ title is open to interpretation, and can be applied to successful people of all backgrounds, what these men and women do have in common is a series of personality traits that make them the best, and most highly-respected, in their field.

Any budding CEO would do well to study these characteristics. Beyond the educational background, years of experience, and high performance in various key roles, a CEO needs to be aware of why some people are able to kick on in their careers and lead successful teams while others simply remain very good at their jobs.

And you’ll note in the list of nine personality traits below that you don’t need to take a management course to acquire strong leadership qualities. These qualities may be innate – and waiting for an opportunity to emerge.


Intel co-founder Robert Noyce once labeled optimism as, “an essential ingredient of innovation.”

To be pessimistic is to go nowhere; successful leaders must possess realistic optimism not only about themselves and their skills, but also the projects they take on – no matter how mammoth they may seem.

They also view other people in a positive light, preferring to focus on the pluses rather than the minuses.

This quality of seeing the best in things is attractive to others. People in general gravitate towards positivity rather than negativity. Without optimism, leadership becomes more forced and challenging, requiring you to drag people along with you rather than having them willingly steer the ship for you.


While the rest of us are deciding whether we should work out today or what to eat for lunch, top leaders are expected to make important decisions that affect hundreds or thousands (or even millions) of people every day; some of which are life or death decisions.

They are expected to solve problems quickly and confidently, based on their past experiences, their knowledge about a topic, and their trustworthy intuition.

A top leader’s decision-making process is well-honed and is rarely ‘hijacked’ by stress, indecision, doubt, or negativity.

They’ve learned to avoid making spur-of-the-moment, rash decisions that can bring negative outcomes for other individuals. Even in stressful situations, they are able to remain unflustered in their decision-making.

Such leaders are also fully aware of what’s riding on what they decide. They are able to ‘wear’ the gravity of situations without becoming too pressurized.

They can apply the relevant ‘higher thinking’ parts of the brain to make the best decisions possible, assessing situations accurately and predicting the expected outcomes of their decisions on their people and the organization as a whole.

CEO @ava IG

Ava DuVernay @ava


The world is an ever-changing stage. Every day we’re presented with new technologies, new ways of thinking and working, and new issues we’ve never dealt with before.

What makes a good CEO is someone with a willingness to keep learning, stay up-to-date, listen to opposing opinions, be open to the expertise of others, and adjust strategies if need be. Ultimately, they need to be flexible.

This requires an open-mindedness that is borne of confidence and security. Those who are rigid and inflexible in their ways are often fearful of change. This means they tend to protect their own ‘patch’, try to maintain the status quo, and are less willing to listen to others’ opinions.

This style of leadership is considered a little ‘old hat’. The modern leader embraces change, ideas, and diversity. And they invite feedback from others, encouraging them to openly voice their opinions in an environment of constructive criticism and continuous improvement.


When solving a problem, it is often logic we turn to for the answer. Unfortunately, logic doesn’t always cut it.

Top leaders – while also assessing the facts – will turn to their intuition to make decisions. In other words, they listen to their gut.

Again, this stems from a confidence and security in who they are and their ability as a leader, as well as where they are taking the organization. They have the experience and track-record of making the right decisions, providing a good ‘belly barometer’ for most situations when logic alone doesn’t provide the answer.


CEO @U.S. Army Public Affairs H.R. McMaster

H.R. McMaster; Photo Credit: US Army Public Affairs


Effective leaders understand they are in charge of their group or organization, taking responsibility wherever necessary.

What makes a good CEO is someone who believes in accountability – not blaming others for mistakes or missed opportunities. And they expect others to do the same. They know that “to err is human” and this includes themselves: so there is no hiding behind excuses, or blame games played.

They hold their hand up for their own mistakes and are tolerant of slip ups in others, expecting accountability not perfection.


Did you ever see a great leader who couldn’t take a blow?

Resilience is the ability to come back from challenging or stressful experiences. It’s no surprise that the most successful leaders have experienced plenty of these!

Such leaders accept that life will occasionally throw a curveball in both a personal and professional sense. But, rather than becoming plagued with failure, they find a way to bounce back stronger than ever.

Underpinning this is the positive mental attitude mentioned earlier. Rather than focusing on the negatives that have bogged them down and slowed progress, they look to glimmers of light that lead the way ahead.

This sense of everlasting hope for something better gives them a natural doggedness that is characteristic of all natural leaders.

CEO Unsplash @raw.pixel chat OPTIMISED

Kindness, Tolerance, And Empathy

There is a great deal of maturity and strength in showing kindness, honesty, tolerance, and empathy.

This wasn’t always the case. In the past, ‘sergeant-major’ style leadership was common – with decisiveness, directness, and stoicism prized as the pillars of strong leadership.

Thankfully, times have changed. Leaders are encouraged to listen to their people, develop closer relationships with them, and understand their needs, rather than take a bludgeoning approach.

While dictatorial, arrogant leaders are still amongst us, there is a trend for today’s top leaders to earn their place as a leader with the backing and respect of their people.


Ambition is, of course, one of those traits we naturally associate with what makes a good CEO.

Ambition brings the drive and determination necessary to take the bull by the horns and guide their people on a journey.

The world’s top performers are nearly always determined, ambitious and driven, whether their goal is to lead a sports team to victory, eliminate racial injustice across the world, or achieve the growth targets set by the board of directors.


Emotional Intelligence

You may have heard the term ‘emotional intelligence’ or ‘EQ’ used in connection with leadership.

This is a measure of how well a person understands his or her own emotions and those of other people; and how well they use this intelligence to guide their thinking and behavior.

It’s a term that has become more common in boardrooms of late because it’s often described as the ‘x factor in success’. In particular, it’s seen as a quality that allows leaders to get the best out of their people.

In actual fact, emotional intelligence encompasses many of the traits outlined above. People with high EQ are often seen as tolerant, open and empathetic, as well as being flexible, resilient, calm under pressure, good at decision-making, excellent at building relationships, and very positive.

Are You A CEO-In-Waiting?

Leaders aren’t always born leaders; in fact, it’s usually their motivation and persistence that gets them there.

They know that powerful leadership goes beyond managing people. It inspires and influences people, and helps them grow as individuals. It has the power to improve lives.

CEOs must answer to their boards; but the most valuable CEOs are also answerable to their people.

That requires an understanding of human nature and the human experience; it requires understanding people.

That’s why many of the CEO-worthy personality traits outlined above are those that you’ll recognize in leaders you’ve respected throughout your life. These leaders may have helped you change your life for the better in some way.

Which of the above characteristics do you possess? Could they help make you the leader you always dreamed of being? Or are there some personality traits you’d like to work on first?

Perhaps you have a successful leader in mind that you admire in business, music, philanthropy, or sport? Which personality trait of theirs would you love to possess? Share it below, or comment on the #GreensTeam Facebook community so we can check it out!