Business Skills


Corporate Leader

6 Attributes of Successful Long-term CEOs

Differences between successful, long-term CEOs and those who are replaced after 6 years or less on the job


This article is adapted from "Executive Churn: How You and Your Company Can Avoid Becoming Statistics in a Growing Global Trend" by Roger Conway, Michael Campbell and Corey Criswell. (Leadership Excellence, May 2006, Vol. 23, No. 5, Executive Excellence Publishing;


The Problem

Talented managers often make it to the top, but some don't stay for long. In recent years, turnover at the executive and CEO levels has soared.

Smart Executive



This research project helps you to gain insights into the shrinking tenure of executives and the skills needed to succeed over the long haul in a senior-level position. CEOs, operating officers, presidents, vice presidents, directors and board-level professionals were surveyed to identify key factors that impact executive churn. Leaders at all levels can learn from the mistakes and missteps of short-term CEOs.

Six Attributes of Successful, Long-term CEOs

1. Creating, Communicating and Executing a Clear Vision, Strategy and Stretch Goals. An executive's success is affected by the ability to communicate a vision for a company's future, helping employees to navigate through change and motivating them to achieve specific goals.

12 Leadership Roles

2. Delivering Results. Today's businesses especially those publicly held -emphasize the bottom-line more than ever. Tolerance levels for poor performance are dropping. There is little margin for error. That makes the ability to produce results a very important factor impacting tenure.

Results-based Leadership

3. Acting with Integrity. Those who operate with integrity consistently adhere to a code of conduct and have an underlying value system that is manifested through their behavior.

Leadership Attributes

4. Maintaining Key Relationships. To have a long-term view you need to have strong political ties, good shareholder relations and the skills and knowledge to allow people to understand and buy into the long-term view. A successful relationship with the board of directors is of particular importance.

5. Exhibiting Appropriate Leadership Style and People Skills. A poor leadership style and people skills ultimately have a negative impact on an executive's tenure at their own firm. Some executives can clearly get the job done quickly, but the 'dead bodies' left in their wake can take years for the organization to recover.

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6. The Cultural Fit. A candidate for a top job might look great on paper, but must be culturally compatible in order to build relationships and add true value. Often, hiring managers or boards emphasize the need to challenge old thinking and move in new directions. But if an executive is too far out of step with an organization, the resulting culture clash can overwhelm the benefits.

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Think Like a Long-term CEO

CEOs that stay put and continue to drive organizational success demonstrate their value in many ways. You, too, can showcase your value by following these strategies of long-term CEOs:

  • Focus on results. What can you show that demonstrates tangible results and solid success? Be able to offer strategies and recommendations for improvement in areas outside your current scope, too.

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  • Know what you stand for. Get clear on the values and beliefs that drive your leadership style and your thinking. How have those factors influenced your behavior as a leader?

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  • Rally the troops. Given the complexity of doing business on today's global playing field, the ability to marshal focus around a clear vision is critical. Can you successfully rally an organization around a common cause?

Leadership-Management Synergy

  • Emphasize relationships. Make it a point to build and improve work relationships. Gain skills that allow you to work well with all key stakeholders.

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