Landmark New Study Identifies the Key Qualities of the World’s Best CEOs


Staff Report



CEO coach explains the surprising findings and how to utilize the research for maximum impact

Ever wondered what makes a good boss? A recent study followed over 17,000 CEOs for 10 years in order to find and identify the top skills that make a CEO successful. The findings, which were just published in Harvard Business Review, turned out to be quite surprising.

“You might expect that a highly effective leader would have an Ivy League education, or at the very least, an impressive educational background,” says Krister Ungerboeck, CEO coach and former CEO of a 3,000% growth software company. “Or you might think that the best CEOs would be very confident and outgoing. However, the researchers found otherwise. In fact, these things have very little to do with whether or not a CEO is a good leader. Only 7 percent of the highest performing CEOs had an Ivy League background, and as for confidence, a CEO’s self-esteem had no proven impact on their ability to grow their company.”

So what qualities did the highest performing CEOs have in common? CEO coach Ungerboeck identifies the skills below, and suggests how employers can apply them to their own management styles:

  • They knew when to shut up. “You might think that the world’s top leaders would be gregarious, talkative extroverts, but the study findings showed otherwise,” says Ungerboeck. “In fact, the researchers found that introverts tend to make the best CEOs. I think this is probably because introverts tend to need less external validation. They don’t need to be the smartest guy in the room or to have all eyes on them. In return, this gives their team a chance to shine, which means the CEO can make the most of their staff’s intellect and experience.”
  • They don’t problem-solve…they problem-find. “Many bosses think that their job is to fix problems. They spend their time and energy running around all day and putting out fires. However, a truly gifted leader does not solve problems for their staff. Instead, they step back and take a bird’s-eye view of each department and its functions. This allows them identify patterns in the workplace and to find out where improvement and innovation is needed. They then delegate the problem-solving to the appropriate employees and trust in their ability to perform.”
  • They realize how much they matter. “Nothing sets the tone for a workplace like a boss,” says Ungerboeck. “This is hugely powerful lesson that employers everywhere need to learn. When you walk into your office, you are impacting everyone around you in an immediate and immeasurable way. Your attitude is directly inspiring not only how hard everyone is working, but also how creatively they think and how cooperatively they act.”
  • They are comfortable being uncomfortable. “You might think that it is wise to avoid areas where you don’t feel as experienced, but those are exactly the areas that could end up being the key to your success. The best CEOs are comfortable being uncomfortable. For some, that might mean going to an anger management class. For others, that might mean spending the days on the sales floor and making cold calls for the first time in decades. A true leader isn’t afraid to risk failure, because they know that the only true failure is refusing to admit one’s flaws.”

“If you are self-aware, engaged and truly willing to work on yourself as a person and as a leader, your improved management style will have a direct and positive impact on your employees and your bottom line,” says Ungerboeck.

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