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Build Your Career Get Ahead

4 Strong Personality Traits That CEOs Share

4 Strong Personality Traits That CEOs Share
Credit: Jirsak/Shutterstock

There are four main traits most CEOs have in common, new research finds.

Specifically, CEOs are charismatic, have strong execution and strategic skills and are overall generally talented, according to a study from researchers at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark.

Researchers said businesses can look at these four characteristics to help determine if a job candidate is fit for a CEO role, or other top executive level position.

For the study, researchers examined a data set of more than 2,600 assessments to study 30 individual characteristics of candidates for top executive positions, including CEO, chief financial officer (CFO), chief operating officer and others.

The researchers used factor analysis, a traditional empirical approach in studies of personality traits, to group those individual traits into four main managerial characteristics.

"The factor analysis lets the data speak," Steven Kaplan, one of the study's authors and a professor at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, told Business News Daily."The data more or less say that most of the information in the 30 characteristics can be compressed into the four final characteristics or factors."

The researchers found that speed, efficiency, aggressiveness, persistence and proactivity were related to execution skills, while enthusiasm, persuasion, aggressiveness, proactivity, analytical skills, organization and attention to detail were related to charisma. [See Related Story: Choosing the Right CEO Matters More Than Ever ]

The traits connected to strategic ability were strategic vision, brainpower, creativity, attention to detail, holding people accountable and organization. The authors said all 30 of the characteristics went into determining general talent.

After looking at the assessments of job candidates who were hired as CEOs and CFOs, the study's authors discovered that the CEOs and CFOs had completely opposite scores in the areas of general talent, execution skills, charisma and strategic ability. The CEOs had high scores, and the CFOs had lower scores.

"This suggests that CEOs are, indeed, stronger on all of these factors," the study's authors wrote.

Even though the CFOs scored lower in these areas, it does not mean they aren't skilled workers, Kaplan noted. "Remember, this is a sample of C-level people, so it is relative," Kaplan said. "In general, these are talented people."

The research also revealed that people who were candidates for positions other than CEO who scored high on the four factors were subsequently more likely to become CEOs.

"The results strongly suggest that different characteristics and factors are relevant for different positions," the study's authors wrote. "These results also suggest that it is possible to predict which executives are more likely to succeed in the future."

The study found no significant differences in the four factors among men and women. However, women were 28 percent less likely to get hired as a CEO. Overall, the data showed that CEO candidates who were ultimately hired scored lower on execution skills, and higher on interpersonal skills, than interviewed candidates.

This finding suggests that "boards and shareholders overweigh interpersonal skills in making hiring decisions," the researchers said.

Kaplan believes the data have implications for boards choosing CEOs and for managers aspiring to become CEOs.

"If you are trying to be a CEO, you can try to improve on [these characteristics], particularly execution-related skills and, possibly, charisma-related skills like enthusiasm and persuasiveness," Kaplan said. "If you are choosing or grooming a CEO, make sure the person you choose has those characteristics, particularly execution-related ones."

The study was co-authored by Morten Sorensen, a professor at the Copenhagen Business School.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.