HBR Insights: 4 Behaviors That Set Successful CEOs Apart

Forward-thinking executives seek practices that will set their companies apart. From adopting effective goal-setting systems like OKRs to implementing continuous, two-way feedback, there are a few critical components of effective ongoing performance management today’s CEOs choose to implement for accelerated results.

But are there some specific behaviors CEOs themselves must adopt to outperform their peers? In a recent article analyzing CEO behavior and corporate goals, HBR said yes. And in fact, 87% of executives intentionally develop these behaviors to perform better – meaning you don’t have to be born with these traits to excel.

Here, we sum up the key behaviors successful CEOs exemplify to set themselves (and thus, their companies) apart.

4 Behaviors that Make CEOs Better at Achieving Corporate Goals

  1. Make Swift Decisions

    Average CEOs worry about always making “the right” decisions. Great CEOs make decisions swiftly and confidently – even when they have limited information. HBR research shows that decisive CEOs are 12 times more likely to outperform their peers. Further, execs with higher IQs but slower decision times can actually get in their own way and halt company progress.

    To become more decisive, simply ask yourself these two questions when met with an important decision:

    1. What impact will result if I make the wrong decision?
    2. How much will I stall progress if I don’t make a move now?

    In many cases, it’s easier to recover from a bad decision than not acting on time: 66% of CEOs fired based on their decision-making skills were let go because they were too indecisive, while only a third were fired due to bad calls.

  2. Engage Key Stakeholders

    CEOs who actively seek buy-in from their teams and key stakeholders are 75% more successful in their roles. Any time a big decision is being made, top-performing CEOs identify which parties they’ll need to garner support from.

    Powerful execs also come to expect a certain level of conflict in the face of big changes. That’s where exceptional conflict management skills come in. To masterfully engage your teams and establish necessary buy-in, you must listen to their concerns, be willing to engage in conflict, and find ways to channel any resistance you meet into something positive. It’s also critical that you stay calm under pressure.

  3. Become Adaptive

    It comes as no surprise that the CEOs who adapt well to new circumstances are 6.7 times more likely to succeed. Adaptiveness comes down to not only dealing with situations outside your normal playbook, but abandoning the idea that a playbook can exist at all, according to Dominic Barton of McKinsey & Company.

    Part of becoming more adaptive is learning to view mistakes as learning and growth opportunities instead of failures. In fact, CEOs who perceive setbacks as failures are half as likely to succeed than their peers. Contrast this with 90% of top-performing CEOs, who were ranked as being able to excel in dealing with unexpected situations.

  4. Produce Consistent Results

    A reliable individual is twice as likely to be chosen as CEO and 15 times more likely to perform well in the role. An overwhelming majority of successful CEOs – 94% – are able to deliver results consistently.

    Reliability all comes down to follow-through. The better you’re able to see your commitments through, the more reliable you’ll become. And, to become more reliable, you have to set realistic expectations, which you can achieve by assessing business needs and using a reliable framework for corporate goal setting (like OKR goals).

While there may indeed be some innate qualities CEOs possess that make them better candidates for leadership roles, the behaviors listed here can actually be built and strengthened over time. While the individual actions a CEO must take to help their company succeed vary by the unique needs of each organization, these four behaviors are universally valuable for executives and can help teams of any size or in any industry perform better.

What else? Which other behaviors do you consider critically important to be a successful CEO?

Do you manage a company or teams (either as a CEO, a senior executive, a middle manager or even a front-line manager)? Do you set and track objectives? Does aligning employee performance to business goals matter, and are you responsible for driving results? If so, please check out a live demo of Atiim OKR & Goals Management Software and we’d love to hear what you think about it. Thank you!

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