New study reveals four key traits of top bosses

A NEW study has revealed the best bosses aren’t necessarily extroverted, charismatic, confident executives with a perfect track record.

In fact, research published in this month’s Harvard Business Review suggests some of the most successful chief executive officers are actually introverts.

The study looked at a sample of 17,000 executives in the United States, including everything from career history to behavioural patterns.

“We have seen a fundamental disconnect between what boards think makes for an ideal CEO and what actually leads to high performance,” the authors wrote.

“That disconnect starts with an unrealistic yet pervasive stereotype … that a successful CEO is a charismatic six-foot-tall white man with a degree from a top university, who is a strategic visionary with a seemingly direct-to-the-top career path and the ability to make perfect decisions under pressure.”

However, they say they were struck by how few of the successful leaders they studied actually fit into that mould.

“The biggest aha, overall, is that some of the things that make CEOs attractive to the board have no bearing on their performance,” Elena Lytkina Botelho, a co-founder of the project, told the Washington Post.

For example, you don’t necessarily need to have an impeccable career.

The project found nearly all candidates had made some kind of major mistake, from hiring the wrong person to making a bad decision or overpaying for an acquisition.

In fact, 45 per cent of them also had what the researchers called a career “blow-up” that pushed them out of a job or cost the business a large amount of money.

However, 78 per cent of that group went on to actually become a CEO.

Researchers say the four key traits for top bosses are:


High-performing CEOs don’t necessarily stand out for making great decisions all the time, but they make them quickly and consistently.

“Smart but slow decision makers become bottlenecks, and their teams either grow frustrated (which can lead to the attrition of valuable talent) or become overcautious themselves, stalling the entire enterprise.”


The study found the best bosses “start by developing an astute understanding of their stakeholders’ needs and motivations, and then get people on board by driving for performance and aligning them around the goal of value creation”.


Researchers cited Brexit and the shock US election result as examples of modern-day scenarios CEOs need to be able to handle with ease.

“Most CEOs know they have to divide their attention among short, medium, and long-term perspectives, but the adaptable CEOs spent significantly more of their time — as much as 50% — thinking about the long term.”


Reliability was found to be much more valuable to companies than delivering incredible resolute only occasionally.

“Mundane as it may sound, the ability to reliably produce results was possibly the most powerful of the four essential CEO behaviours. In our sample, CEO candidates who scored high on reliability were twice as likely to be picked for the role and 15 times more likely to succeed in it.”