Whether you're in charge of a multinational corporation or you're the founder of a small startup, being a CEO is stressful. You're the final decision maker and cultural figurehead of your entire enterprise, responsible not only for securing the future profitability and existence of the company but also for the respect and satisfaction of your employees.
It's a rough gig.
Fortunately, there are seven key traits of likable CEOs that can help make you more charismatic, more respectable, and, ultimately, more successful. These traits have helped countless CEOs grow into their leadership position, in small and large businesses alike.
1. They are honest and genuine.
You can't fake honesty. Too many business professionals try to work their way to the top of the ladder by acting like what they consider to be an ideal "corporate" personality. You know these types. They're always perfectly polite and they always seem to deliver good news, but they're almost too polite; their sentences seem formulaic and robotic, littered with buzzwords and niceties. That might work for certain clients when you're on a sales call, but when you're in charge of a company, you need to be truer and more direct.
People admire honesty and sincerity. When you are direct and truthful with someone, he/she will consider you trustworthy, and will be more honest to you in return. Cultivate trust in your organization by cutting the BS. Be yourself and be honest, even when the truth is difficult to express.
2. They are positive.
No company has existed without failure. Even the most successful, profitable companies experience failures and hardships during the course of their development. Likable CEOs are more likely to take these obstacles and put a positive spin on them. For example, if a new competitor emerges in a similar space, a likable CEO will see it as a challenge rather than as a setback. He/she will find new ways to position the company or meet the challenge head-on with a more aggressive strategy.
However, it's important you don't simply ignore or cover up the bad things that happen to your company; otherwise you'll compromise your honesty. Instead, be truthful and address each negative situation objectively. But instead of dwelling on it or reiterating the harmful effects, focus on the path forward and the lessons the company can take away from it.
3. They are personal. Some CEOs try to distinguish themselves by creating distance, using absence as a means of generating respect and reverence. However, this approach does not make you more likable (nor is it very effective). People like people, so be a person first and a CEO second. Treat your employees like people; not like subordinates.
Regularly visit your employees, wherever they are. If you operate multiple facilities, visit them all on a rotating basis and do what you can to really get to know your employees. You don't have to be friends with them, but the more you converse and become familiar with them, the better. Use touch as often as possible--shake hands, put your hands on shoulders, high five--whatever you are comfortable doing. Make eye contact and laugh with your employees. Show off your personality, and people will like you and respect you more because of it.
4. They listen to people.
You may be the ultimate decision maker for most business matters, but that doesn't mean your opinion is the only one that matters. If your employees feel like their opinions don't matter, they won't want to work for you. Do whatever you can to help your employees feel heard, and they'll become more invested in your leadership and in your company. It can be as simple as a suggestion-box-style submission process, or as in-depth as a series of personal interviews. You just have to let people know that their voices are heard.
It's a beneficial strategy for several reasons. First, you'll be more likable, and people will respect you more. Second, people will feel like a true part of the company rather than just a gear in a machine. Finally, you'll be opening yourself to a diversity of new opinions--which could give you new ideas and provide real, valuable insights into the way the business operates.
5. They work hard.
It's important that your employees see you as more than just a figurehead. Most CEOs are the top-earning members of their company, so demonstrate that you deserve that position by being the hardest working member. If people notice you spending more time dining with clients than working on projects, they may become resentful or skeptical of your dedication as a leader.
Instead, make sure your employees know how hard you work. Be open about your daily activities and the number of hours you spend working. If they see you working harder than they are, they'll see you as humble and committed to the organization, and in turn, they'll work harder in their own roles.
6. They recognize and reward effort.
A little bit of recognition can go a long way. When employees feel that they are adequately acknowledged and rewarded, they are far more likely to want to keep their job, and if you're the one complimenting and rewarding them, they'll like you better as a CEO.
Do this on both an individual level and a higher level. Look at long-term trends and group statistics to reward entire facilities, or even your entire workforce, for a job well done. These rewards can be annual bonuses, special trips, or even a small party to celebrate a collective effort. It's also important to congratulate individual team members whenever you can, even if it's only a pat on the back. Take five minutes to tell a worker how he/she has impressed you with their work. It will motivate that worker to continue on that path and endear you as a leader.
7. They are authoritative, but considerate.
Many of these traits involve being personal and friendly, but you also can't lose sight of the fact that you are the leader. In addition to your business responsibilities, you are a figurehead of the company, and it's important to act the role. In all of your decisions, no matter how major or minor, it's important to be authoritative, but considerate.
That means your decisions are firm and final, but that you're willing to listen and understand voices of contention or disapproval. You need to be understanding of your employees' perspectives--even if they dissent--but at the same time, you can't waver in your decision making. This will allow you to remain commanding and respected as a leader without alienating the sympathies of your team. It's a difficult balance to strike at times, but the most well-liked and well-respected leaders are able to demonstrate it.
Even if you aren't a CEO of a company, you can develop these traits and use them to your advantage. Any position of leadership, or even personal interaction, can benefit by applying these simple charismatic principles.
It's also important not to overthink things. Good CEOs don't become great simply by running through a checklist of "ideal" characteristics. They get there by being the best version of themselves, and by truly trying to make a difference in their organization. The rest comes naturally.