Qualities of a CEO: 5 Things the Board Expects from You

Whether you’re looking to land a CEO position or seeking to hire a CEO for your organisation, certain qualities constitute the ideal candidate.

Is Education Important to Become a CEO?


Although several well-publicised college dropouts have gone on to become successful entrepreneurs and CEOs, Forbes reports nearly 40% of the Fortune 100 CEOs achieved an MBA status – and 60% were elite school graduates.

Credentials from the world’s top academic institutions will not harm a candidate’s chances of becoming a successful CEO. However, having an elite education doesn’t guarantee success. In fact, some of the world’s most famous business brains have landed the top job with little academic achievement.


Egon Zehnder recently surveyed 800 executives. 78% of them believed a person’s track record is a poor indicator of future success. A notable, 87% also stated an individual’s qualities and personal traits “explain the difference in performance between good and great.”

Qualities of an Effective CEO


Whether you’re part of a big business, or you choose to register as a sole trader and self-identify as a CEO, the following qualities are worth noting.


  1. Be a Good Strategist

You should be able to effectively collaborate with fellow employees at all levels, know what is required and explore potential opportunities. In an interview with Forbes, Cathy Anterasian points out a worthy CEO candidate can be a great strategist without mentioning “strategy” in their resume. She illustrates this point with an example from her time working with a healthcare board. The board was evaluating a candidate for employment who used the word “strategy” in his job application. However, he failed to convince them he was the right candidate for the job because of his inability to act in an ever-changing market.

“When we assessed his actual work, we discovered he was brilliant in ‘keeping the trains running on time’, “Anterasian explained, “but less prepared to deal with the ambiguity and complex market dynamics created by ObamaCare.”

  1. Be an Excellent Operator


Although the previously mentioned candidate may only have kept the trains running on time, the ability to do so is, in fact, a valuable skill. If a candidate is good at planning a company’s next steps – but incapable of mobilising processes to get results – it’s unlikely he or she will become a successful CEO.

An excellent operator should have the ability to analyse the company’s options and put them into action. Anterasian recalls a situation where a candidate missed out on a position because he was unnecessarily over analytical. His actions immobilised the company because important decisions were left unsettled and the candidate was unable to take action in critical situations. “Strong operators deliver performance. They cascade vision down to specific goals, objectives and metrics,” explains Anterasian.

  1. Be Compatible with the Company’s Culture

An organisation’s board members will pay particular attention to whether an individual can fit into the company culture and ethos. Anterasian reveals a damning statistic that suggests 70% of failed hires across all positions result from incompatibility. Luckily, if you’re an aspiring CEO, or you’re moving from one CEO role to another, you can attend a CEO peer group session to gain ideas and advice from your peers in other companies. Being CEO can be a tricky job to navigate by yourself, so it might be useful to hear what other CEO’s struggle with so that you can take their advice on board and apply it to your own situation. Hopefully, this should increase your compatibility and allow to bag that job you’ve been dreaming of.

Anterasian worked with a board in a family-owned agribusiness that was looking for a new CEO. The board decided to reject the application of an internal candidate because they felt the leader had to be performance-driven and less “family-oriented”.

An ideal candidate should find the right balance between the ruthless nature of achieving results and adapting and having an impact on existing company culture.

  1. Create a “Followership”

A good CEO must inspire the whole team, from board members right down to the rank-and-file employees, so creating a sustainable, healthy work environment that reaps positive results.

To achieve this, you must be clear when communicating your company’s plans for reaching its goals. You must also provide incentives for reaching those targets that will motivate your team. As a result, you will meet your objectives and your employees and fellow executives will trust you enough to follow your subsequent actions. The following 3-step plan is a good way to communicate goals and create an atmosphere of trust and teamwork.

1) Set a clear and compelling target

2) Communicate how you plan to achieve that target

3) Give an encouraging and results-driven purpose for reaching that target

Anterasian suggests that “followership” – where a leader creates an inspirational path and “following” for their employees or audiences- could be a deal-breaker if you can’t evoke passion, creativity and a sense of fulfilment. In an insurance succession she handled, one candidate appeared to be an excellent candidate for the CEO position, demonstrating a strong set of skills and experience. But he didn’t land the role.

His application was unsuccessful because Anterasian and the board heard some employees say that they would “march forward – but with no passion” if he became CEO. So they chose another candidate with less experience but with much more positive employee feedback.

  1. Be a Flexible Leader

With technological, financial and political circumstances ever-changing, it’s important to demonstrate your ability to adapt to the variables that may affect your company.

“No one survives as CEO who doesn’t have the aptitude and potential to adapt to suddenly changing circumstances,” says Anterasian. “Boards look for that, especially with internal candidates who, by definition, are unproven at the CEO level.”

The most telling sign of a candidate’s inability to adapt – and one that will result in rejection – is a distinct arrogance. A good CEO needs a sense of humility and the ability to take on new ideas and accept changes. They will not believe they are above everyone else.


It can be challenging to embrace new techniques and processes if you can’t adapt. The only way out of this is to align your perspective with current trends that could directly impact your company’s longevity.

Be Shortlisted!

Take on board the tips discussed in this article, and you should persuade the board you are the perfect candidate for CEO. You’ll also convince them you are the right person to keep the company fresh and profitable.