Four Behaviours That Define Exceptional Leaders – The CEO Next Door

Ever wonder what distinguishes great CEOs from the rest?

Forget the image of the isolated genius – according to recent research, leadership excellence is founded on specific, learnable behaviours.

In their book “The CEO Next Door,” Elena and Kim unveil these four key habits, offering a roadmap for anyone aspiring to lead.

This article delves into these four vital behaviours they uncovered, providing a roadmap for anyone aspiring to leadership greatness.

1. Decisiveness

Decisiveness stood as a cornerstone of effective leadership. The researchers observed that these exceptional CEOs possessed a remarkable ability to make swift decisions with unwavering conviction.

The result being that they were 12 times more likely to be high performers.

“They don’t get bogged down in analysis paralysis. Instead, they make choices swiftly, but not recklessly.”

Here’s how they achieve this:

  • Simplify the Complex: They break down intricate problems into manageable pieces, making informed decisions.
  • Harness Collective Wisdom: They solicit input from their teams while retaining the final say. It’s about leveraging the power of the group without sacrificing speed.
  • Prioritise ruthlessly: They understand that not every issue requires immediate attention. They focus on decisions that truly matter, avoiding micromanagement.
  • Continuous Improvement: Great CEOs are lifelong learners. They analyse past decisions, seek self-improvement, and stay informed about industry trends.

Decisiveness isn’t just about making choices; it’s about navigating uncertainty with confidence and agility.

Consider the story of Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. When Nadella took the helm in 2014, Microsoft faced a shifting technological landscape. Instead of adhering to traditional models, Nadella swiftly pivoted towards cloud computing and artificial intelligence, transforming Microsoft into a tech powerhouse.

2. Adapting Boldly

Adaptability is the second behaviour; CEOs with this trait were seen to be seven times more likely to succeed.

Thriving in a world of constant change is a hallmark of exceptional CEOs. They embrace change, both for themselves and their organisations.

Here’s their secret:


  • Letting Go of the Past: Successful CEOs understand that clinging to outdated strategies hinders progress. They are open to new perspectives and are willing to adapt.
  • Building an Antenna for the Future: They actively seek out emerging trends and disruptions, anticipating change and positioning their organisations for success.

Take the case of Jeff Bezos, founder and former CEO of Amazon. Bezos’s bold decision to diversify Amazon’s offerings from an online bookstore to a global e-commerce giant demonstrates his adaptability. He continuously explores new ventures, such as Amazon Web Services and Prime Video, solidifying Amazon’s position as an industry leader.

3. Relentless Reliability

The third behaviour that defines top CEOs is relentless reliability. Reliable CEOs are not just high-performing; they are 15 times more likely to be high-performing.

Therefore, reliability isn’t just a virtue; it’s a game-changer in executive success.

Exceptional CEOs exhibit personal consistency, setting realistic expectations, practising radical personal accountability, and embedding consistency into their organisations.

By fostering a culture of reliability, these CEOs inspire trust and accountability, driving high performance and organisational success.

Here’s what it means:


  • Personal Consistency: Their actions and decisions are predictable. They are a steady force their teams can rely on. They master their time and prioritise daily tasks.
  • Setting Realistic Expectations: They don’t over-promise or underdeliver. They establish achievable goals and consistently meet or exceed them.
  • Radical Personal Accountability: They take full ownership of their actions and their team’s performance. They don’t pass the buck, fostering a culture of accountability within the organisation.
  • Embedding Consistency: Processes, procedures, and standards are clear and consistently followed throughout the organisation.

    Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo, epitomises relentless reliability. Throughout her tenure, Nooyi consistently delivered results by setting ambitious yet achievable goals and holding herself and her team accountable. Her unwavering commitment to excellence propelled PepsiCo to new heights.

    4. Engage for Impact

    Engaging for impact is the final vital behaviour, where CEOs lead with intent, they are clearly aware that engagement isn’t merely about likeability; it’s about driving tangible results.

    Exceptional CEOs lead with intent, understand the needs of all stakeholders, and build relationships through routines. By orchestrating collaboration and aligning actions with goals, these CEOs foster an environment where everyone works cohesively towards success.

    Here are the key principles:


    • Leading with Intent: They have a clear purpose for every interaction, influencing how people think, feel, and act to achieve desired outcomes.
    • Understanding the Players: They take the time to genuinely understand the needs and motivations of those around them.
    • Building Relationships Through Routines: They establish consistent communication channels with all stakeholders, fostering a collaborative environment focused on achieving results.

    Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford Motor Company, exemplifies engagement for impact. Mulally’s strategic leadership and collaborative approach revitalised Ford, steering it through the 2008 financial crisis without government bailout funds. His focus on transparency and teamwork restored profitability and positioned Ford for long-term success.

    Closing Thoughts: A Roadmap to Leadership Greatness

    No matter where we might be in any of these areas, the good news is that we can learn to practice these behaviours.

    In the pursuit of CEO greatness, academic credentials pale in comparison to the four vital behaviours outlined in “The CEO Next Door.”

    Decisiveness, adaptability, reliability, and engagement form the pillars of exceptional leadership, transcending industry boundaries and educational backgrounds.

    By embodying these behaviours, any aspiring CEO or leader can chart a course towards success, driving organisational excellence and leaving a lasting impact on the business world.

    Behaviours always start with your daily agenda – download the one-page-leaders focus sheet.

    Image of the One Page Leaders Focus Template

    About the Author

    Toye Oshunbiyi
    Founder and CEO of Business Leaders Coach
    Is a leadership and business coach helping to develop conscious business leaders in the SME space.

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