9 Things CEOs Say About Themselves

People love to talk about CEOs, but how do these executives describe themselves? To examine how CEOs label themselves, we surveyed nearly 100 Chief Executive Officers, attending CCL’s Leadership at the Peak program. We wanted to understand what great leaders say about themselves and get a sense of whether the descriptions from the top sound like the ones about the top.

This infographic summarizes their answers, followed by a more detailed description below.  Do you see any similarities to your own senior leaders?

When we asked CEOs to describe their strongest personality points, I thought it was particularly interesting that 16% of CEOs claimed that humor was their strongest asset. I haven’t worked for too many humorous bosses but the funny ones did make the day go by faster and made me more excited to come to work. Creating that “bond” through laughter made me want to do better work. Not all CEOs have witty charm, but they make up for it with other strong competencies. 14% of CEOs revealed that their strongest personality point was honesty while another 13% said it was loyalty. These high ethical qualities in a boss often pave the way to an ethical organization overall. Having a combination of all three could create a culture that cannot be reckoned with.

When we asked about the personality point they deemed their weakest, thirty-four percent of the CEOs surveyed said it was impatience.  It is also interesting to note that more than 10% of CEOs recognize that they do not listen as well as they should and admit to getting “impatient and interrupt rather than letting people talk.” Nearly 10% of CEOs acknowledge their judgmental tendencies as well, “I can be critical and judgmental of others.” Learning how to recognize these behaviors when they occur and how to better regulate oneself is necessary for any leader – but when all eyes are on you it can be particularly important.

Lastly, we asked CEOs what words they would use to describe themselves. More than half of the CEOs (52%) described themselves as passionate, focused or driven.  It can be assumed that part of the reason for the huge success of these leaders at the top is that they never lost their passion, focus or drive for the work they do and the people and organization they do it with. These findings serve as a reminder that even at the highest levels of leadership there are ways to improve and keep striving. So what do you think, do the descriptions from the top sound like the ones about the top?

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About Shannon Muhly

Shannon Muhly is a research analyst for the Center for Creative Leadership. She is based in the Colorado Springs campus in Colorado. Her main focuses are on women’s leadership and on the global Senior Executive Research Initiative, which seeks to understand the challenges and specific leadership needs of leaders at the most senior levels from different industries, sectors, and regions. She received a B.A. of Psychology from University of Colorado at Boulder and will receive her M.A. in Communication from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs in spring 2014.
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14 Responses to 9 Things CEOs Say About Themselves

  1. Interesting infographic. I’d be curious to see how they think others would describe their key personality traits as well.

    • Ooh Jacqueline, great thought! I think you just helped me decide what my next blog could be about. I think it would also be interesting to find out how others really do describe CEO’s key personality traits and then look at a comparison of all three… Could generate a pretty cool story I bet.

  2. avatar Sophia Zhao says:

    Hi, Shannon,
    This is interesting! Congratulations to the success of the survey.
    I found “impatience” the most interesting point. The % of leaders mentioning “impatience” as their weakness is higher than the % mentioning their strengths. Looking at their other characteristics, impatience may be a by-produce of “passionate” and “driven”. The lesson for the leaders may be to find a balance; and to be cautious that your strength can become your weakness.

    • Sophia, it is interesting that the % mentioning “impatience” was more than twice as many as the % mentioning their strengths. Are these CEOs really that humble you think or just extremely self aware? I found humor to be the most interesting…who knew? I do think it differentiates..

  3. avatar Ben Simonton says:

    Seconding Jacqueline, it would be much more interesting to see how they are viewed by their people. In fact, knowing how they view themselves is relatively worthless.

    Knowing if they view their job as doing what they can to get the work done or view it as helping their people to do their best at getting the work done is far far more important to know. The former creates the huge amount of disengagement reported by Gallup surveys while the latter creates fully engaged Superstars.

    • avatar Christy Brown says:

      I think one reason that the results of this survey are meaningful (not worthless) is that they allow us to compare our own perceptions of CEOs with the way they perceive themselves and to reflect on whether these two views match up. Self-awareness and communication are key to good leadership.

  4. avatar Jenny says:

    I think humor and passion are two of the most important traits CEOs can have – but their employees would probably know better if they actually have those qualities!

  5. avatar Bill Cattley says:

    Comparing the 360* surveys of peers and subordinates is the really interesting view. What is the gap in our perceptions and reality.

  6. avatar Dilep Misra says:

    Shannon, Thanks for capturing beautifully the traits of successful leader. I was thinking about one more trait of leader, How about “Learnability”? It means how much Leaders have inclination/ hunger for learning.

  7. Dilep,
    What an interesting concept. I have never heard of Learnability but that is a great competency that we should start thinking about here. I absolutely can think of leaders with this hunger for learning and conversely I can think of leaders that don’t have this drive and I bet you can guess which one is more successful now, :)

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