The Five Leadership Traits That All Top CEOs Share

Written by on February 28, 2017

The CEO Coaching International team works with some of the top business leaders in the world. And while we’re proud to say that we’ve coached our CEOs and entrepreneurs to an average profit increase of 139% over three years, we also value how much we learn from our clients.

Through my years of coaching top CEOs, I have discovered that there are five specific leadership traits that successful CEOs all have in common:

1. Think Big

There’s no question about it–If your business goals are small, your business will stay small. Or worse, it will shrivel up and die.

Here’s a simple exercise: Add a zero. If you have $1 million in revenue, what would it take to get to $10 million? If you’re at $10 million, how could you get to $100 million? And if you’re at $100 million … Now you’re thinking BIG! Shooting for exponential growth is way more effective than, say, setting a 15% sales increase goal for next year. To get to 10X, you have to innovate, disrupt, scale — all things that will help your business grow at warp speed.

2. Always Show Confidence

Most success stories involve hardship. That was certainly the case for me at Platinum Capital. There were a lot of dark days. Some months I couldn’t even make payroll.

So I hired a band.

At our state of the company meeting, in marched the Fountain Valley High School Band, with me in the lead, band uniform and all, holding a giant tuba.

I knew the company had to march through this tough patch — more than that, I knew we COULD march through it. I needed my employees to believe too. If I’d walked out on stage feeling sorry for myself, my staff would have spent the next week polishing and emailing their resumes. No matter how hard it gets, the CEO has to project confidence and inspire people to do their best.

3. Take Calculated Risks

“Heads I win, tails I don’t lose much.”

That’s the motto of my old friend and YPO Forum mate Mohnish Pabrai, who once spent $650,000 on a lunch with Warren Buffett. The money went to charity, but Mohnish and his partner credit that lunch, the accompanying publicity, and the wisdom they learned from Mr. Buffett, with transforming their businesses.

Another friend, Feyzi Fatehi, bet on himself, and left a very cushy job at HP. Today his company, Corent Technology, is a leader in cloud computing. Feyzi believes in asking yourself, “If I don’t do it now, will I regret it later?” If you wait for a perfect moment to take a big risk, or make a big change, you might wait forever. Or worse, the rest of your industry might jump on the next wave and leave you behind.

4. Be Courageous

Hard decisions fall on the CEO’s desk every day. You have to have the courage to make them.

You might have to set a Huge, Outrageous Target that seems a little crazy, and then rally your team around it.

You might have to move on from a popular long-time management member the company has outgrown.

Or you might have to own up to a mistake.

My colleague and good friend Michael Maas built a company up to $175 million in revenue before some bad business decisions threw it into a near-death situation. It was humbling to tell the stakeholders how deep the troubles were, but by having the courage to be honest and transparent, his team won their support. A few years later: $300 million in revenue and a nine-figure sale.

5. Maintain the Right Attitude

It’s easy to be in charge when money is rolling in. Adversity is the true test of a CEO’s attitude.

Leading through a crisis doesn’t mean walking around the office with a smile plastered on your face when everyone knows there are layoffs happening down the hall. Leading is choosing your words to send the right message. Leading is embracing optimism and positivity instead of pessimism. Leading is gratitude for what’s great about your company, not envying someone else’s company. Leading is cultivating your key business relationships when you need them the most. Leading is thinking through a decision rather than letting fear or frustration lead you down an even darker path.

So: show confidence, take risks, be courageous, maintain the right attitude, and above all, think BIG. Organize around these five leadership traits and you won’t just start thinking like a world-class CEO, you’ll start acting like one too.

About Mark Moses

Mark Moses is the Founding Partner of CEO Coaching International and the Amazon Bestselling author of Make Big Happen. His firm coaches over 130 of the world’s top high-growth entrepreneurs and CEO’s on how to dramatically grow their revenues and profits, implement the most effective strategies, becoming better leaders, grow their people, build accountability systems, and elevate their own performance. Mark has won Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and the Blue Chip Enterprise award for overcoming adversity. His last company ranked #1 Fastest-Growing Company in Los Angeles as well as #10 on the Inc. 500 of fastest growing private companies in the U.S. He has completed 12 full distance Ironman Triathlons including the Hawaii Ironman World Championship 5 times.

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