10 Essential Qualities for a CEO

From being a forward-thinker to having a sense of purpose
10 Essential Qualities for a CEO
A CEO is the highest-ranking executive in a company

As a popular adage goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” In the corporate world, the role of a chief executive officer is one of the most prestigious, yet it is also one of the most challenging. Being a successful CEO is another story. In fact, a study from Gartner subsidiary CEB estimates that 50 to 70 percent of newly appointed CEOs fail within 18 months. 

A CEO bears an immense responsibility. They must establish and implement the organization’s strategy. At the same time, they must manage resources and supervise the executive team while being answerable to the board of directors. As the highest-ranking executive in a company, they should possess certain qualities to steer their organization in the right direction — and to further growth — successfully.

But what are the traits that outstanding CEOs have? Here are 10 of the most important CEO qualities.

1. Adaptable

If there’s one thing that the pandemic has taught the world, it’s the fact that things can change in an instant. Therefore, it’s imperative for CEOs to not only have a forward-thinking nature but also possess a high degree of adaptability. They must recognize potential disruptions, not only within their specific industries but also in the broader context.

An analysis from the Harvard Business Review shows that adaptable CEOs are 6.7 times more likely to succeed. Additionally, PwC research indicates that nearly 40 percent of CEOs believe if their companies do not transform, they may no longer be economically viable within a decade. This underscores how CEOs must have a keen eye for innovation. This is especially essential in the face of a rapidly evolving business landscape.

2. Respectful to employees

Happy employees are productive employees. And one of the things that keep employees happy is when they feel respected — and feel valued. As the CEO, it is paramount to lead by example in demonstrating this respect to every member of the organization. Actively listening to employees’ perspectives, exhibiting exemplary conduct in interactions and upholding fairness in all dealings are pivotal in fostering a positive work environment. In essence, the CEO’s commitment to acknowledging and valuing each individual contributes significantly to the overall satisfaction and productivity of the team.

3. Thinks like a customer

One of the fundamental rules of business is to know the target audience. The CEO, being a key person who steers the company to growth, must not only maintain a leadership mindset. To make their products and services successful, they must also adopt the perspective of their customers. This is one of the most vital CEO qualities. When they understand — and anticipate — the needs, preferences and expectations of their audience, CEOs can craft and implement better strategies. Ultimately, it will contribute to the company’s long-term success.

4. Bold and decisive

Boldness and decisiveness are crucial traits of successful CEOs. They understand that, to foster growth, an organization must break free from conventional practices and challenge the status quo.

In the Middle East, over half of CEOs have already diversified their products and services, and 37 percent are contemplating such diversification in the next 12 months. This strategic move exemplifies a proactive approach to transformation and adaptation within a rapidly evolving business landscape. Moreover, it serves as a testament to the bold and decisive mindset of CEOs in the region, as they recognize the imperative need for expansion, even when it entails taking risks.

Read: Majority of Gulf CEOs expect increase in distressed businesses

5. Good communicator

At the core of any successful leadership is effective communication. According to a study by Salesforce, 86 percent of executives state that inadequate communication is a primary reason behind business failures.

To ensure that the whole organization and stakeholders are aligned, CEOs must be able to convey their vision, goals and expectations. By being transparent with their communication, these chief executives can create a shared understanding, which helps drive the company toward a common goal. 

Communication also goes beyond just talking about things that concern the organization. A survey says that 60 percent of employees want their CEO to voice opinions on controversial issues, and another 80 percent want CEOs to communicate public policies or their company’s societal contributions personally.

ceo qualities

6. Knowledgeable of company culture

Another thing that sets remarkable CEOs apart from others is their deep understanding of their company’s culture. They acknowledge that culture plays a pivotal role in shaping their company’s identity and, ultimately, determining success. Figures show that 71 percent of CEOs highlighted culture as a top factor that positively influences financial performance. Additionally, about 69 percent of CEOs believe that the cultural element of direction and purpose is essential.

CEOs well-versed in their company’s culture can leverage it to foster a positive work environment, enhance engagement with employees and align their leadership style with the organization’s values and principles.

7. Loyal

Loyalty is one of the most essential CEO qualities that help them nurture a committed workforce. If the CEO shows loyalty to the company, they become an inspiration to other members of the organization. In the long run, this will contribute to lower turnover rates. This saves both time and money for the company. Loyalty also goes beyond just saving resources. More importantly, it boosts the reputation of the organization. It conveys a positive image to customers, investors and other stakeholders. Subsequently, it boosts satisfaction and sales.

8. Trustworthy

Fostering trust between leaders and employees is vital for a thriving workplace. Trust deepens connections, boosts job satisfaction and alleviates workplace stress. Concerningly, a recent survey reveals that 63 percent of employees don’t trust their leaders. This shift raises urgent issues about credibility in leadership, and it’s something that impacts morale, engagement and profits. The solution? CEOs and organizations must embrace a participatory model, emphasizing collaboration, communication and transparency to rebuild trust as a shared responsibility.

9. Has a strong sense of purpose

Over the past two decades, companies with a clear social purpose have consistently outperformed the S&P 500. A successful CEO is one who ponders why their company exists and then embeds that purpose into the fabric of their business model. They understand that aligning strategy with a goal can unveil new avenues for growth. In this way, they create a lasting legacy of positive impact that extends well beyond their organization and the industry they’re in.

With a strong sense of purpose, such CEOs not only inspire their employees and stakeholders but also attract socially conscious investors who can relate to the business’ mission. 

10. Leads by example

“Actions speak louder than words.” This is something that CEOs would do well to keep in mind and practice. An effective and inspirational leader is one who sets the right example for others to follow. It is not just a matter of work ethic, but also of character.

For Mounir Haidar, co-founder and managing partner, LEAD Development; and managing director, Jubail Island Investment Company (JIIC), leading by example is a great way to inspire people to succeed. “I share the values of integrity, vision, humility, and commitment with my team, as we aim to motivate our wider business to achieve our goals.”

Frequently asked questions

What is the role of a CEO?

The CEO is responsible for formulating and executing the organization’s strategy. They oversee resources, manage the executive team, and are accountable to the board of directors.

What are the top traits of a CEO?

A successful CEO must be adaptable, respectful to employees, customer-oriented, bold and decisive, and a good communicator. Additionally, they must be knowledgeable of company culture, loyal, trustworthy, and have a strong sense of purpose. Most importantly, they must know how to lead by example.

What hard skills does a CEO need?

For a CEO to succeed, they must possess both hard and soft skills. The former refers to technical expertise, while soft skills encompass personality traits like communication and time management. The top hard skills that CEOs must have include computer skills, financial management, strategic planning, marketing knowledge and project management, among others.

Final thoughts

The chief executive officer is a position that sits atop an organization’s hierarchical chart. And, simply put, it’s a demanding, challenging yet rewarding role. A successful CEO possesses various crucial CEO qualities, including being a forward-thinker, adaptable and a good communicator. They also carry a deep understanding of company culture, are bold and have a strong sense of purpose. 

Armed with these attributes, they lead their organizations, guide their people and take their stakeholders to new heights — skillfully navigating a dynamic and ever-changing world.

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