Five Essential Characteristics for C.E.O:

  • Passionate curiosity,
  • Battle-hardened confidence,
  • Team smarts,
  • A simple mind-set,
  • Fearlessness.

According to Adam Bryant’s article, Distilling the Wisdom of C.E.O.’s, for the NYT’s the five characteristics listed above will lead to attaining the ‘corner office’. The article is an adaptation of his book “The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons From CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed”. There is more behind these five characteristics.

Passionate Curiosity

Many successful chief executives are passionately curious people. It is a side of them rarely seen in the media and in investor meetings, and there is a reason for that. In business, C.E.O.’s are supposed to project confidence and breezy authority as they take an audience through their projections of steady growth. Certainty is the game face they wear.

[C.E.O.’s] wonder why things work the way they do and whether those things can be improved upon. They want to know people’s stories, and what they do.

[W]hat, ultimately, is the C.E.O.’s job: ‘I am a student of human nature.’… C.E.O.’s are not necessarily the smartest people in the room, but they are the best students.

Passionate curiosity, Ms. Minow said, ‘is indispensable, no matter what the job is. You want somebody who is just alert and very awake and engaged with the world and wanting to know more.’

Passionate Curiosity = The typical curiosity driven 5-year-old kid - a sponge with purpose.

Battle-Hardened Confidence

“If there were some test to find out whether a person had this quality, it would be a huge moneymaker. But people, and companies, reveal how they deal with adversity only when they are faced with potential or real failure, and the status quo is not an option.

The best predictor of behavior is past performance. [Chief Executives] want to know if somebody is the kind of person who takes ownership of challenges or starts looking for excuses.

It’s a positive attitude mixed with a sense of purpose and determination. People who have it will take on, and own, any assignment thrown their way. They say those words that are music to a manager’s ears: ‘Got it. I’m on it.’”

This may get tricky and messy. There is a difference between liking a challenge and being accepting of failure vs accepting a challenge knowing you will fail. My view: If you don’t know how to do something, say so. If you want to take on the challenge, say so. If you want to take on a challenge but lack the basic knowledge to execute, say so and ask for assistance (a little guidance, no hand-holding). There will be a learning curve but the next time a similar challenge is presented, you’ll know where to start.

Team Smarts

“The most effective executives are more than team players. They understand how teams work and how to get the most out of the group. Just as some people have street smarts, others have team smarts…Team smarts is also about having good ‘peripheral vision’ for sensing how people react to one another, not just how they act.”

Team Smarts = Analytical Observer (stability is key)

A Simple Mind-Set “Few things seem to get C.E.O.’s riled up more than lengthy PowerPoint presentations. It’s not the software they dislike; that’s just a tool. What irks them is the unfocused thinking that leads to an overlong slide presentation. There is wide agreement it’s a problem: ‘death by PowerPoint’ has become a cliché.”

Simple Mind-Set = Quit the bullshit. KISS!


Mindy F. Grossman, C.E.O. at HSN, describes someone who is fearless as a person “who not only can manage change but ha[s] an appetite for it”. Bryant elaborates by adding “[chief executives are] looking for calculated and informed risk-taking, but mostly they want people to do things — and not just what they’re told to do”… “Are you comfortable being uncomfortable? Do you like situations where there’s no road map or compass? Do you start twitching when things are operating smoothly, and want to shake things up? Are you willing to make surprising career moves to learn new skills? Is discomfort your comfort zone?”

If “yes”, perhaps you’re fearless.