3 essential qualities of a successful CEO

by Evan Davies, Chief Executive - QLD, VIC, NZ | |   Personal Success

It doesn't matter how much a CEO looks the part, or how smart they are, they won't be an effective leader if they cannot demonstrate the "3C's".

Becoming a CEO is the greatest leap that an executive can make in his or her career. What makes it such an extraordinary transition, of course, is the complexity of the role and the skill that is required to manage that complexity successfully. So, what exactly do successful CEOs have that other leaders don't?

In discussion about the qualities of successful CEOs at a recent Syndicate meeting, one member drew an analogy between CEOs and diamonds. Most are flawed in some way, all are hardened and formed under crushing pressures and intense heat, and they are judged by degrees of quality.

Diamonds are judged by the four C's: carat, cut, colour, clarity. Furthering the analogy, we determined that the success of a CEO is determined by the three C's: credibility, competence, and caring.

  1. Credibility

    To have credibility, everyone needs to believe that they are being told the objective truth in all communication.

    To maintain credibility, the truth has to be told 100 percent of the time. Telling the truth 90 percent of the time is not much better than telling the truth 10 percent of the time.

    It's easy for a CEO to share good news about growing revenue and profits, but much harder to be upfront with bad news. A successful CEO cannot shy away from difficult conversations by masking it with good news. This will result in lost credibility.  

    CEOs who lose credibility can never regain it. It only takes a few instances of delivering non-credible statements to totally lose credibility. Once credibility is lost, a CEO cannot lead successfully.

  2. Competence

    A CEO may be credible, but this is meaningless if they are not competent. Whilst a CEO may be seen as being truthful, they also might be judged as wrong, ill informed, or guilty of poor judgment.

    To be seen as competent, CEOs need to show a deep understanding of the company's business model - how the offering is bought and sold, plus how it's made or how the service is constructed and delivered. They also need to show a willingness to learn and adapt.

  3. Caring

    Having competence but not caring about the people or the organisation's mission will be problematic. Caring is about demonstrating that the CEO puts the organisation above himself.

    Like credibility, it can take time to build trust and a moment to destroy it. Trust will be immediately violated if a CEO demonstrates a lack of commitment to the organisation's goals and vision, or when they choose not to follow the same rules as the rest of the employees.  CEOs engaging in such behaviours usually end up with little real influence or power to direct the organisation.

Unlike diamonds, there is no leeway with CEOs. To achieve top performance, CEOs cannot afford to fail on any one of the three 'C's'. It doesn't matter how much a Chief Executive looks the part, or how smart they are, they won't be an effective leader if they cannot demonstrate all three C's.



The CEO Institute was founded in 1992. It is now Australia's leading membership organisation for CEOs and senior executives. It provides a forum for over 1,000 Chief Executive members to connect and share their learning with each other. In 2011, The CEO Institute became the world’s first global certification body for CEOs, and in 2013, partnered with UNESCO in support of the "Malala Fund for Girls' Right to Education". In 2014, they began offering their programs globally. The CEO Syndicate is an exclusive peer support network for CEOs. The first meeting of The CEO Syndicate program was held in Melbourne in June 1992. Offices were opened in Adelaide in 1996 and Sydney and Brisbane in 1997, with Perth launching in 2007. In 2015 the New Zealand office opened.  The Future CEO program is a certification course designed by the business leaders of today for the business leaders of tomorrow. The first Future CEO meeting was held in Melbourne in May 2012. In 2014, the "Future CEO Scholarship Fund for Women" was established, and continues to be offered today. Membership of The CEO Institute is by invitation only. To register your interest click enquire.



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