CEOs' human traits carry the company

Medicaid CEOs
CEOs that show their human side can excel.

While CEOs have the technical skills to run a business, it takes a human touch to be fully effective. Personal traits are just as important as being able to oversee a board meeting or acquisition, and these actually go hand in hand.

One necessary trait is empathy, to understand customer, employee and stakeholder concerns, because business doesn’t always run on positive sentiment, said Jennifer Schenberg, CEO of PenVine: “It’s about listening and processing feedback and then addressing those concerns or needs.”

Patience is necessary “to listen to your team, customers and stakeholders and understand what they need to continue growing,” Schenberg said. “And then making the right decisions that are in their best interests, while ensuring the best interests of the company and its employees, is critical.”

Passion is needed “in every communication and interaction about the company and its lifeblood—your employees,” Schenberg said. “Passion about your team, services and products pulls through every interaction—in person and online. It differentiates brands and inspires loyalty.”

“A CEO should always be learning,” said Nitin Rakesh, CEO of Mphasis. “I don’t think we should ever stop learning or have an ‘I know it all’ attitude. It ties back to a phrase that I commonly share: ‘We are just like doctors and lawyers—we are always practicing.’ A CEO’s job is to get self-motivated people on our team and set a vision.”

Leaders need to be in touch with the employees, said Dr. Tracey Wilen, principal of TraceyWilen.com. “Employees don’t view work as a paycheck; they actually want work to have value.”

CEOs “can’t hide in the corner office,” Wilen said. “They need to be present, transparent and visible. This builds trust.”

CEOs must be passionate “and believe wholeheartedly in their ideas, no matter what anyone says, while also being objective enough to take the right feedback,” said Lana Elie, CEO of Floom. “It’s a fine balance but a vital one.”

Curiosity is another welcome trait, Floom said. “It’s pretty easy to find the right tools to teach yourself about things you don’t know, and if you really don’t have those skills, find people who do that can help you.”

Perhaps the most important quality, Floom said, “is having a clear vision and being able to express it. It’s the foundation that will carry you and your company forward.”

Chris Nicholson, CEO of Skymind, said a CEO's most important ability is to create strong feedback loops, “because good feedback is what ensures companies build something customers want. Strong feedback loops also ensure teams listen to each other and work well together. Part of strong feedback loops is the ability to listen, test a theory, learn something new, and foster honest debate.”

The most important CEO ability is “leveraging your genius, which, in a nutshell, is what you do exceptionally well,” said RM Harrison, CEO of RM Harrison. “This is the foundation for doing great work, having satisfaction in your role, and being a successful leader. When you're clear on your genius, you're sharply attuned to where your focus and energy are most valuable.”

“I have found that the ability for a CEO to remain level-headed when faced with stress or an unexpected change makes all the difference,” said Liz Erk, principal partner of The Jaxson Group. “Running a business in a challenging economic and political climate is not easy, but I have learned that the businesses that come out on top and weather every storm successfully are the ones with strong, stoic leadership.”

Read more on