CEOs serve internally and externally as representatives, motivators and business strategists. Investing in attracting and retaining a transformational CEO will drive the health of your organization. Successful CEOs share five common traits.
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Authors: Ann Varnedoe Jami Herzberg


Top organizations nationally seek highly effective chief executive officers (CEOs) who do these five things.

1. Challenge the status quo

CEOs are responsible for more than just maintaining the success of an organization — they must be willing to take risks to ensure that their organizations push forward. Great leaders step outside of their comfort zones to take on new challenges. The ability to take calculated risks promotes creative thinking and helps ensure that their organizations don't lag behind industry standards in the ever-changing market.1

2. Invest in relationships and talent

A CEO is, above all, a leader. People need to view their CEO as both a strategic partner and a person invested in the success of those who work alongside them. CEOs are responsible for a wide array of professionals and should see investment in talent as a critical part of their jobs.

The No. 1 operational priority for organization in 2023 has been retaining talent — ahead of revenue, according to Gallagher's 2023 Workforce Trends: Organizational Wellbeing report.

In response, for example, many organizations have prioritized intentionally connecting with remote workers as one way to invest in relationships and talent.

A robust talent pipeline is no longer a "nice to have" — it's a business imperative. Your future requires strong leaders — the best of whom may come from within your current ranks. Effective CEOs know the importance of motivating their people, building relationships with all stakeholders and creating a culture of collaboration and trust. Think of employee engagement and retention as a three-legged stool balanced on rewards, the work environment, and opportunities to learn and grow.

3. Display self-awareness and emotional intelligence

Emotionally intelligent CEOs own their impact across the organization. They must be deliberate about how they show up in their roles and ask themselves such questions as, "How do I want to be remembered as a leader?" Leaders who are trusted, authentic and self-aware use emotional intelligence to promote workforce retention and organizational wellbeing.2

To maintain a culture of belonging and engagement, CEOs need to be aware of the toll that working in their specific industries, from healthcare and education to law enforcement and technology, may take on their employees. Gallagher's 2023 US Benefits Strategy & Benchmarking Survey shows that more than seven in 10 employers say stress and burnout are their most pressing wellbeing concerns. To combat stress, CEOs and their senior leadership teams need to analyze the root causes of burnout and align their management teams to support employees' physical and emotional wellbeing.

CEOs often appreciate an outside consulting professional to serve as an unbiased sounding board. One manufacturing company's CEO wanted to refine his thinking around his relationship with the board as well as clarify such strategic decisions as facility expansion and succession planning. In working with CEOs, we find they already know the answer. A sounding board can help them to confidently "know what they know."

4. Communicate and represent the organization well

Leaders must be able to represent their organizations and communicate its goals to all stakeholders. This requirement includes strategizing for the long term alongside members of the board, fellow organization leaders and community stakeholders. A highly effective CEO in any industry will see stakeholder partners as assets, not burdens. Savvy CEOs seek out support to continually improve their communication skills across all mediums including social media, virtual meetings and large in-person events.

5. Plan strategically and pivot when necessary

High-performing CEOs constantly look ahead to where the organization needs to be in the future and take into account both short- and long-term goals. As the market changes, a leader must plan and pivot when necessary.

For example, for one organization, internal survey data proved accurate but incomplete. Micro-level data from focus group reveals that talent retention pivoted on an above-market medical plan. The organization's board took a different direction to offer a high-end copay medical plan, choosing not to decrease the benefit spend.3 Savvy CEOs uphold the tenets of the organization and will know when to pivot their workforce strategy in response to market changes.

These five characteristics comprise the foundation of a highly successful CEO. Using these attributes, a leader can meet an organization where it is and guide the enterprise to achieve overall business goals as well as the needs of the communities it serves.

Gallagher consultants work with senior leaders to offer perspective, advice and guidance based on decades of leadership experience working with executives across a range of industries. We also design strategic and scalable leadership training programs to accelerate the growth of high-potential emerging leaders.

Contact us to discuss how expert consulting can help your organization attract, engage and develop transformational leaders so you can face the future with confidence.


1"Differentiate Yourself as a Leader: 4 Ways to Challenge the Status Quo," LinkedIn, 19 Dec 2022.

2O'Hare, Susan. "Hone Soft Skills to Strengthen Effective Leadership." Gallagher, Feb 2022.

3Rylko, Thomas. "Case Study: Micro-Level Data Delivers Big Insights" Gallagher, May 2023.


Benefit Services (Canada) Group Inc. Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. is a licensed insurance agency that does business in California as "Gallagher Benefit Services of California Insurance Services" and in Massachusetts as "Gallagher Benefit Insurance Services." Neither Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., nor its affiliates provide accounting, legal or tax advice.