9 Qualities of Successful CEOs: Launch Your Professional Journey to CEO with The Virtues™

By Kelsey Boudin
Board President, Strength Solutions, Inc.

Many of us aspire to career success, perhaps even to become chief executive of an organization. The roads to success can be so different – winding, challenging and often quite varied. That said, it’s difficult to pin down exactly the most ideal qualities of successful CEOs.

We all know the proverbial tale of the former janitor who worked his way up to CEO. At 31, I stood up to a tyrannical boss, resigned immediately and began building my own business that very day. Admittedly, that “stick it to the man” path isn’t too common.

Many who become chief executives work their way up through a department within their organization – marketing, operations, finance, legal, etc. Those who get rewarded for their worth typically demonstrate success with organization-wide initiatives, guiding multiple departments as head of their own.  

The Virtues Project™: Building the Traits & Qualities of Successful CEOs

Successful CEOs typically exemplify a series of personal characteristics and virtues. Some are born with these traits. Others learn them through years of hard knocks. Anyone can choose to build them through The Virtues Project™.  

Russell Reynolds, a prominent executive search company, identified these nine pivotal qualities of successful CEOs that differentiate them in the professional world. Here, we explore how integrating character strengths from the Virtues Project™ can be a transformative force in your ascent to C-level status.

1. Forward Thinking: Pioneering with Vision

Virtues Spotlight: Purposefulness – Awareness of the meaningfulness of our lives. Living by a clear vision and focusing our energy on the goal before us.

Forward thinking involves meticulous planning and devotion to long-term goals. Foresight instills a vision that transcends and guides short-term, immediate tasks from smaller objectives into big-time success stories. 

This allows a chief executive to actively contribute to the strategic planning of an organization, aligning projects with the broader picture.

2. Optimism: Being Positive Amid Challenges

Virtue Spotlight: Optimism – A positive, cheerful outlook. Nothing can destroy our hope.

It almost goes without saying, positivity is among the greatest qualities of successful CEOs. You can’t achieve success without first envisioning it and truly believing in your ability to get it done.

Optimism aids executives in maintaining a positive outlook – for themselves and their teams – during challenging phases and against adversity. Optimism nurtures a culture of resilience, where setbacks are viewed as opportunities for learning and growth. A positive mindset is contagious and sets the stage for a leader who can inspire their team to do greater things.

3. Measured Emotion: Poise in High-Stress Situations

Virtue Spotlight: Self-Discipline – The self-control to do only what we truly choose to do, without being blown off course by our desires. Establishing healthy and ennobling habits.

Maintaining composure during high-stress situations makes a leader a leader. You can’t crack and crumble against adversity. Cool, calm and collected – even when outright failure seems right around the corner – is the only way to win consistently.

Executives can enhance this skill by practicing mindfulness and stress-management techniques. Learning to express emotions appropriately while maintaining control is essential for C-level executive leadership.

4. Bias Toward Action: Orchestrating Broader Impacts

Virtue Spotlight: Determination – The power of intent that drives our dreams. Persevering until we meet our goals.

Bias toward action is a critical quality of successful CEOs. But what does that mean? It means a great leader is driven by – and perpetually compelled toward – taking action. Indecision and hesitancy are no benchmarks for leadership success. 

Great leaders decide; then move forward. 

This character strength propels leaders to focus on broader impacts and engage in decision-making on individual projects and organizational initiatives alike. Determination ensures leaders refine their skills for efficient execution, a hallmark of successful CEOs.

5. Calculated Risk-Taking: Strategically Navigating Uncertainty

Virtue Spotlight: Courage – Transforms fear into determination. Embracing life fully, without holding back, doing what must be done even when it is difficult or risky.

With important decision-making comes associated risk. Every decision carries a little – or a lot – of it. Calculated risk-taking is a skilled CEO’s forte. 

The virtue of courage helps executives to mindfully manage their risk tolerance. Sometimes the juice is worth the squeeze. Sometimes it’s not. It’s on a strong chief executive to calculate that risk. 

Courage empowers leaders to assess and mitigate risks strategically. In so doing, they gain the confidence to navigate uncertainties. Courage also ensures the competence to innovate and adjust in real time, a trait crucial for executive leadership.

6. Being Tough-Minded: Building Resilience

Virtue Spotlight: Resilience – The strength of spirit to recover from adversity. Overcoming obstacles by tapping into a deep well of faith and endurance.

Some may go so far as to call this being “bull-headed.” But being tough-minded is so much more than stubbornness.

Constructive tough-mindedness is an attribute resilient leaders possess. For project managers and other mid-level executives aspiring to the C-suite, learning to handle criticism and adversity with composure is crucial. Resilience is not only about bouncing back from setbacks, but also evolving stronger from each experience.

7. Reading People: Elevating Interpersonal Skills

Virtue Spotlight: Empathy – The ability to put ourselves in another’s place, with compassion and understanding.

Interpersonal skills are crucial for any professional walk of life, especially for C-level executives who must manage multiple, dozens or even hundreds of different work styles and personality types. Most importantly, the virtue of empathy goes so much further than a rudimentary understanding of the people you work with.

You must intrinsically understand what drives people emotionally. That takes empathy and an ability to read people between the lines of what they say and do – and what they might not. 

Becoming an effective reader of people involves active listening, keen observation, and understanding individual and team dynamics. Empathy enables leaders to comprehend diverse perspectives within teams and stakeholders to nurture cohesive collaboration and resolve conflicts constructively.

8. Being Inclusive: Valuing Diversity

Virtue Spotlight: Unity – Inclusiveness. Finding common ground in our diversity. Seeking peace in all circumstances.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have been buzzwords for some time now, and not without merit. But to some of the worst chief executives, it’s merely a quota to fill. To some of the best, it’s a golden opportunity to arrange the right pieces of a complicated puzzle. 

Managers accustomed to collaboration at every turn may not even realize they’re practicing the virtue of unity. Seeking input from diverse team members, involving them in critical decisions, and promoting an inclusive work environment strengthens the team.

9. Willingness to Trust: Building Foundational Relationships

Virtue Spotlight: Trust – Having faith. Positive expectation that all will be well. Having confidence that the right thing will come about without trying to control it or make it happen. 

Have faith. Having belief in your team members while consistently delivering on commitments and being transparent yourself builds an environment of mutual trust. 

When discussing qualities of successful CEOs, trust is among the most important virtues for an efficient and productive work environment. Plenty of toxic executives won’t surrender control for anything. They micromanage. They treat employees as underlings who couldn’t possibly handle “the important tasks.” Those “leaders” typically burn out and find themselves with a revolving door of disengaged employees.

But to be a C-level executive, everyone up and down the chain of command also must trust you back. Being honest and delivering on promises is the best way to earn trust in return.

The Virtues Project™: Building Qualities of Successful CEOs

The Virtues Project™ isn’t merely an exercise in leadership development. It’s a transformative journey that equips aspiring leaders with the character strengths essential for the C-suite. (Helpful hint: Its benefits aren’t only for aspiring leaders, and can be used in professional development trainings at all levels.)

You’re interested in channeling the positive traits of the most successful CEOs out there. Integrating The Virtues™ into your professional arsenal builds character that define true leadership. Strengthen your character, fortify your leadership, and ascend with the keys to unlocking your CEO potential.

Contact Mike Marvin, Strength Solutions, Inc. Executive Director, to get started! 

qualities of successful CEOs
Recent Posts