I was reading the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review and one of the articles, What Sets Successful CEOs Apart, caught my attention for obvious reasons. The authors make the case that the highest-performing chief executive officers (CEOs) tend to share certain qualities — and they may not be the ones you’d guess.
To figure out what characteristics the most successful CEOs have in common, a team of researchers and analysts spanning the University of Chicago, Copenhagen Business School, New York University, and analytics company SAS Inc. conducted a decade-long study, examining the careers, business performance, and behaviors of a sample of 930 CEOs, and conducted dozens of interviews with even more of them to determine what differentiated the best from the rest.
So what were the defining characteristics of successful CEOs? The study identified four key competencies:
1. Making Decisions Quickly & With Conviction – Speed matters. This doesn’t mean reckless decision-making. Rather, do your research and take time for contemplation — and then set a deadline to act. The best CEOs make decisions before “all” the information is available when they need to. In fact, the findings of the study showed that chief executives who shared this quality were “12 times more likely to be high-performing,” and indecision was the main reason the majority of all CEOs were fired. (For more, see From Strategy To Action and Speed Is The New Management Competency.)
2. Building Connections To Accomplish Goals – Decisions need to be implemented and that means engaging team members to move ahead. Successful CEOs get the leadership team and staff behind decisions — and a big part of that is in establishing and communicating clear, comprehensible goals, and explaining everyone’s role in achieving those. They also seek out employees’ viewpoints on those objectives and the organization’s performance along the way. What they don’t do is attempt to be everyone’s buddy or try to have everyone get along. In fact, successful CEOs are more comfortable with conflict and challenging points of view than most. (For more, see The Performance Competency & Culture Gap In Non-Profit Management Teams and Leadership – The Leader, The Relationship, The System.)
3. Acting With Flexibility – The ability to act in the present while making adjustments with long-term goals in mind is a hallmark of successful CEOs. For one thing, they’re constantly reading about new trends and monitoring developments that could impact their organization. Also, they expect to encounter setbacks along the way. Adaptable CEOs aren’t discouraged by delays and obstacles. We are in the midst of a cycle of rapid change in the health care market, and being adaptable to market shifts is both difficult and critical for long-term success. All other things being equal, the ability to change course and adapt quickly is the defining characteristic of success for a provider organization in our current environment. (For more, see Is Your Organization Nimble? Take Our Quiz and Is Strategic Planning Passé?.)
4. Delivering Consistent Results – Last, and definitely not least, dependability and reliability are key characteristics of successful CEOs. The boring part is “making the numbers” month after month, year after year. The ability to deliver predictable and repeated results makes people 15 times more likely to succeed in these roles, and also makes them more likely to be chosen as CEO in the first place. According to the authors of Harvard Business Review article, this quality was “paramount,” and 94% of top performers possessed it: “CEOs who ranked high on reliability employed several other tactics as well. Three-quarters of them were rated strong on organization and planning skills. They established business management systems that included a cadence of meetings, dashboards of metrics, clear accountability, and multiple channels for monitoring performance and making rapid course corrections. Most important, they surrounded themselves with strong teams.” (For more, see Building A Culture Of Performance and The Four CEO Worries.)
So how does your CEO (and your future CEOs) stack up on these four must-have characteristics? To learn more, don’t miss the workshops “Best Practice Meta-Leadership: A Framework For Leadership Effectiveness” and “From Strategy To Action: A Guide To Building & Implementing A Strategic Plan That Works” at The 2017 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat, taking place September 26 through 28 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.