Eight skills and traits that set successful CEOs apart

There is a misconception that CEOs have it all together. In fact, this is a very high-stress position that often leaves you feeling like you’re not succeeding.

That’s why we’ve asked several of our network connections who have experience leading others to elaborate on the things like skills and traits that set successful CEOs apart from the rest. Here are eight things we’ve learned.

1) They sticks to the company vision, mission, and values

CEOs that are able to hold onto the mission and values set by the company while carrying out their vision are going to be successful in retaining respect and encouraging focus. They lead with intentionality and model a strong work ethic to their staff and those outside of the organization.

“You can’t expect your staff to live up to a standard that you aren’t following,” says Jim Marggraff, CEO of Kinoo. “If you are not exemplifying what your organization stands for, how can you expect anyone else to do so? Learn to integrate the mission and values of your organization into everything you do and show that intentionality to your staff.”

2) Transparency

This is a major factor for CEOs that have millennial or Gen Z staff (which will make up more than 75% of the workforce by 2027). Understanding how to lead others while also being transparent is key to the satisfaction of these generations.

“Transparency is more than just letting your staff see what you’re doing,” says Sumeer Kaur, CEO of Lashkaraa. “You can have an open concept office and lots of communication with staff, but unless you’re letting them see you as a human with flaws, shortcomings, and failures, they’re going to be less likely to feel connected to you as a leader. Show them how you navigate life when things don’t go according to plan. Be real.”

3) Listening skills

CEOs need to be good leaders but you can’t effectively lead others without listening to what your team has to say. Learn to practice active listening and show them you care about their thoughts, opinions, and ideas.

“Active listening is one of the best things to learn and continue to grow in as a leader,” says John Berry, CEO and Managing Partner of Berry Law. “It’s not an easy skill and I’m not sure that you can ever truly master it, but it’s a fantastic way to improve company culture and lead with intentionality.”

4) They mentor others

Learning to not only lead others but challenge them and help them become better leaders themselves is a next-level CEO skill set. Effective mentorship can boost morale, improve your team, and encourage growth.

“Mentoring isn’t a requirement in being a CEO which is what sets apart those CEOs who make the time to do it,” says Max Schwartzapfel, CMO of Fighting For You. “Pouring your time and knowledge into the growth of your staff can help them feel appreciated but it also allows you to grow staff members that understand your practices and leadership methods in a new light.”

5) They’re diplomatic

This may seem like a skill set or trait that you’d expect to see in a government position, but CEOs need to navigate a variety of situations. Some of these situations require an ability to maintain diplomacy in the face of challenges and legal matters that do pop up from time to time that CEOs have to handle.

“Understanding how to navigate things like government overreach, trade conflicts, and economic uncertainty are all part of being a successful CEO,” says Shaunak Amin, CEO and Co-Founder of SnackMagic. “You have to understand how to react or problem-solve in situations that can be tense or difficult to navigate. Learning diplomacy early on and staying up to date on industry matters can help you build your diplomacy experience.”

6) They’re optimistic

Nobody likes to work for a Negative Nancy. Find a way to put an optimistic spin on situations as much as possible. Even if a situation arises that is not ideal, you don’t want to be panicking your staff. Learn to be optimistic but not misleading – a delicate balance.

“Optimism doesn’t mean you’re lying to your team when things get tough,” says Hector Gutierrez, CEO of JOI. “So many CEOs struggle with this line. You don’t want your staff to feel like you keep them in the dark, but being an optimistic leader can increase morale and improve company culture. Learn to look on the bright side!”

7) They are trusting 

One of the more difficult skills or traits to develop is your ability to trust others. As a CEO, you can’t micromanage every project and try to be a part of every decision. You have to hire people on your team that can be trusted with tasks and learn to rely on that trust and allow them to do what they’re there to do.

“If you don’t trust your team, they’re going to have a really hard time succeeding,” says Omid Semino, CEO and Founder of Diamond Mansion. “Trust is a very powerful thing to show to your staff. Make sure they know they’re a valued member of your team by trusting them to reach goals that have been set.”

8) They are risk-takers

Being a CEO requires a good amount of risk-taking. Knowing how to take calculated risks to improve the brand is something that comes with experience and thought. Being able to take a risk and pursue a new business venture takes a certain amount of calculated risk and the decisions made from there on out will too.

“If you’re someone who plays things safe, you’re going to become stagnant as a CEO,” says Adam Nadelson, CEO of The IV Doc. “It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. The world is constantly changing and growing and the brands that succeed are those that have CEOs willing to take risks and try new things to keep up with or stay ahead of trends – especially in a society where so much is driven by social media and current trends.”

Do you have what it takes to be a successful CEO?

Successful CEOs are not just lucky individuals who have stumbled into an industry and created a product or service that works. They’re people who are able to work on their own shortcomings and pursue success by honing in on those skills and traits that set successful CEOs apart

Looking into the skills and traits that successful CEOs have, it’s easy to see why these are essential. If you’re not willing to uphold your own brand’s mission and values, your brand will fall apart pretty quickly. Being willing to mentor and listen to others is also a big part of being a successful CEO. 

Additionally, successful CEOs need skills that help them handle things like risks and they need to learn to trust their team to do their jobs. Diplomacy is also a trait and skill that many forget about, but there is much more to running a business than meets the eye. 

As you look toward becoming a successful CEO or simply growing your skill set, explore opportunities around you that can help you expand your skills and experience in these areas.