The 4 Simple Behaviors that Turn Ordinary People Into CEOs, According to Researchers

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Leah Thomas866
July 22, 2024 at 8:29PM UTC

Think you can never become a CEO? Think again, say Elena Botelho and Kim Powell, leadership advisors at ghSMART and authors of the book, The CEO Next Door.

Botelho and Powell studied data from 17,000 leadership assessments, from which they chose 2,600 to study even further. The two partnered with professors from both the University of Chicago and Columbia University to analyze the traits these leaders embody most frequently. 

The writers state that most people believe the “iconic CEO is powerful and patrician, a bold, charismatic extrovert with a flawless resume.” Which means we don’t think we can become CEOs ourselves, as we could never measure up. But they’ve found that’s just not true. There are four necessary traits that can help regular working people become the CEO they’ve always dreamt of becoming. And they’re easier to achieve than you may think.

“Even the most impressive CEOs often didn’t start out knowing they were destined for greatness,” the writers said.

1. They make their decisions fast

The researchers discovered  that leaders who are able to make decisions quickly without procrastination or excessive questioning are 12 times more likely to be successful as CEOs. One example of this is the former CEO of Greyhound, Steve Gorman. 

Gorman came into his position as CEO in 2003 when the company was losing money and its parent company was preparing to shut the company down. Gorman spent his first four months listening to various pitches on how to save the business. He decided to take a chance and alter the routes for the bus line around the U.S. and Canada’s most populated areas. His plan worked, and was later on sold for double what it was worth when Gorman took over in 2003. The authors outline how Gorman’s action — regardless of whether or not he thought it was the best decision, or whether or not he could have guaranteed it was going to work — was better than not making a decision at all. 

2. They’re able to sell their own idea

Successful CEOs also have a little saleswoman in them. Leaders must be able to not only inspire others with their idea and goal, but get them on board with it as well. And this doesn’t just mean being a likeable person — it means being someone that can also be seen as the person to get this job done and can be trusted with what could be seen as risk taking. The authors say that these CEOs have all been able to describe their idea in a way that others can see and understand and build relationships with those who can help them make their ideas happen.

The researchers describe Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, as one of these people. Even though Jobs wasn’t always viewed as being the nicest of leaders, he was able to inspire others with his ideas that could have been (and were!) viewed as unconventional. Not anymore.

3. They’re consistent with their actions and their results

Being viewed as reliable increases one’s chances of being hired, according to the researchers. Reliability means leaders can be counted on to deliver on their word and their plans, and can be trusted with being in charge of company responsibilities. 

The CEO who the authors noted Brett Godfrey when discussing reliability. Godfrey was chosen by Richard Branson to head Virgin Australia in 2000. Branson chose Godfrey, who was an employee of his at Virgin Group, because of his work ethic and detail-oriented personality. As an employee, Godfrey showed Branson he was reliable and could handle the leadership position he was then given. 

4. They’re able to adapt to any circumstance

As the researchers wrote: “Aspiring leaders have to learn to navigate the uncharted.” And they point to Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, when discussing adaptability. Bezos founded Amazon in 1994, when it was solely a bookstore. It then branched out into music and video and now offers virtually any product you can imagine, from clothes to home goods to electronics. 

The writers also noted companies Kodak, Blockbuster and Borders are those that failed to adapt, leading to their less-than-successful current standing. 

It’s important for leaders to change with the times in order to remain relevant. The most successful leaders are those who aren’t afraid to take a chance on adapting even when it means branching out into unfamiliar company territory.


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