What makes a great CEO?

Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, isn’t afraid to be pilloried in pursuit of his vision. Now a market darling, Bezos has had his share of being hammered by analysts and investors over his long-term strategy. Instead of folding under pressure, he enshrined his leadership principles in Amazon’s employee handbook, which warns that “thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy”. To strategy and innovation researcher, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Bezos typifies the courageous leader who pushes the boundaries and gets things done. “Lack of courage stymies positive change at all levels,” Kanter says. “To act requires courage. To innovate requires even more courage. Today, courage seems in short supply. What are leaders waiting for?” Winning hearts and minds goes well beyond niceties, with research by Steven Kaplan and colleagues indicating that CEOs’ execution skills are a defining factor in gaining respect. “The most successful CEOs were those who were persistent, effective and proactive,” Kaplan reports, adding that Bezos had been described as “one who can inspire and cajole but also irritate and berate”. The best CEOs are innovators, according to US business magazine Barron’s, whose 30-strong list of ‘world-class’ CEOs includes seven from dotcom companies. The magazine’s other must-have CEO traits: thinking like a company owner, a global focus, and delivering for all stakeholders. Accountability is high on the list of digital marketer, Damian Bazadona, who nominates a consistent set of traits he’s observed in countless interactions with successful business leaders. “The best of the best are passionate, innovative, demanding and caring,” he says. They surround themselves with smart people, demand accountability, are engaged in their surroundings and seek out positive energy. “Passionate leaders are inherently optimistic,” Bazadona says. “They have no time for pessimism.” Adds Kanter: “Intellectual courage is necessary to challenge conventional wisdom and imagine new possibilities. Leaders must refuse to accept limits or stop at industry boundaries.”

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