Which Traits Increase Value Nonstop?

In today’s Wall Street Journal an article titled Tough CEOs Often Most Successful, a Study Finds ends with this provocative paragraph:

Messrs. Street and Smart say it may be that some of the "soft" traits are best in moderation, while the value of "hard" traits increases nonstop. A certain amount of flexibility makes for a better CEO, for example, but too much can shade into indecisiveness. By contrast, any extra persistence might be a boon.

True. We usually talk about the traits best in moderation as most fall in this category. Persistence, though, is certainly an example that increases value nonstop. What are others? It’s hard to think of traits which do not have a backstop in terms of helping your cause as a CEO.

Maybe ethics / morals, though I would argue this still has a dimension of moderation, since business requires making hard calls and there isn’t time to run each and every decision past ethical philosophers.

6 comments on “Which Traits Increase Value Nonstop?
  • I figure another critical element is attitude. Take any successful leader, her attitude will stand out.

    Attitude to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the – past, education, money, circumstances, failures, successes, and what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, gift, or skill. It will make or break a company…a society…a home. You can wear it on your sleeves and signal what you mean.

    I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.

    Should it be any different for a CEO? Guess not. Just be on top of your attitudes, you will steer clear of trouble.

  • Interesting question.

    I would argue that there is no trait, even for a CEO in a succesful company, that does not have a backstop, except for something qualitative like “successful.”

    As my biology teacher put it last year, the only rule in life that applies everywhere is that life is about trade-offs.

    Even persistence you can take too far, as in the example of a CEO, for example, that continually tries to push a company whose business model is flawed when the right move would be to give up. Sometimes quitting is OK.

  • i read this and glad you brought it up. i do favor the ‘getting things done’ mentality as that is really how a ceo is measured and it is important to quantify what we do. the analysis on traits that matter vs the not so much ones–does seem to me to be barely a differentiation. in a way id rather have the not so much qualities that they refer to. i guess it depends on the job/role and situation, but in many cases id rather see someone with strong communications skills and who is flexible/adaptable…than someone with overly analytical skills without enthusiasm or w/o listening skills. it seems like most of this report was derived from the big private equity firms portfolio companies so it is prob worth recognizing that vs for a startup…

  • I was going to make the same point about persistence not always being a virtue – it wouldn’t have helped the CEO of a buggy-whip factory in the early 20th century, for example, to persist …

    I think it’s dangerous to isolate these qualities from one another as though their effects are independent of one another, or to represent them as polar opposites.

    Persistence coupled with flexibility, for example, took IBM from mechanical typewriters through mainframe computers to its current position deriving a large portion of its revenues from services rather than hardware.

    We stress to our young entrepeneurs the importance of persisting with business in general, coupled with a willingness to experiment, learn from whatever results, and then move on, either to more of what works or to something different.

    Attitude is what connects flexibility and persistence in synergy. As Winston Churchill said “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm”.

    Having a lot of one quality, say, persistence, means nothing if the person is lacking the complementary qualities of flexibility, continuous improvement, positive expectations, and so on.

    An approach which produces a positive outcome in one context may produce a negative in another, depending on the individual’s other qualities – have you read “First, Break All The Rules”? It’s chock full of examples of situations where the best and the worst managers are breaking the same rules – but in subtly different ways.

    Blogging at http://www.raisingentrepreneurs.org/blog

  • I think improving critical thinking skills is something that will always pay dividends. Especially for a CEO, the ability to make connections and see beyond the short-term is very important.

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