3 min read

Succession Planning is Critical. Here are the traits that make the difference.

Business person against tech background

What makes for a great CEO? 

Board members have strong opinions of what a successful CEO looks like, but they aren’t always right. In fact, the overlap between their preconceived notions and the actual skillsets and attributes of successful CEOs is surprisingly small.

So what are the key characteristics (research says) you should consider when planning your leadership succession?

One surprising characteristic that hardly ever comes up is adaptability.

The strongest leaders are those that are adept at handling current challenges while planning for future hurdles and opportunities. 

Finding leaders that have worked to cultivate this ambidexterity can be difficult, but focusing on the four core traits of successful leaders can help refine your succession planning.

The Harvard Business Review’s CEO Project identified four behaviors and traits consistently embodied in top leaders. While it is not realistic for every leader to strongly embody each of the four, the strongest CEOs have a deep proficiency in at least two.


Top leaders know that making decisions is the key to continued success. Their choices may not always be the right ones, but they know the benefits of making quick decisions. This prevents bottlenecks and creates a culture of rapid innovation. 

Looking for a decisive leader may lead you to individuals who have not worked in that exact role before and can approach problems with fresh eyes. 

Instilling Confidence

Once decisions have are made, it is essential to ensure buy-in with the plan and get key stakeholders on board. This also involves instilling confidence with colleagues that they will successfully implement these decisions and lead their teams.

Proactive Adaptability

Although top leaders have likely experienced many challenges in the past, a successful leader will continue to be able to adapt to the ever-evolving challenges of the future. Learning from past mistakes and bringing that knowledge to potential future issues is vital for an adaptable CEO. 

85% of CEOs in Deloitte’s 2021 CEO Survey agreed that due to COVID-19, they have pivoted and accelerated digital transformation within their organizations.


Being able to deliver reliable results is one of the most important of the four CEO traits. Understanding expectations and setting realistic goals are ]key strategies within this. To successfully set realistic goals, it is imperative to have the organizational and structural skills to understand what is happening within the organization, what needs to happen, and how to course-correct if things start going off the rails. Additionally, it is vital to building a strong core team that will continue to deliver on the set goals.

Levering Technology to Find a Great Leader

While it’s great to know what skills to look for in a great leader, it’s even more important to understand how to identify leaders with those skills. 

While many individuals have various titles and accolades that may appear to indicate potential success, utilizing technology for your succession planning that can unearth individuals that [have nuanced experience] is the way to success in the future. 

Studies have shown that over the medium to long term, novice leaders outperform experienced leaders, leading to higher shareholder returns. With this in mind, finding previously overlooked candidates for the role can lead to higher success for your organization. 

As we look forward to the future of work and the integration of technology and AI, finding leaders who will embrace the benefits of technology will set them apart from the rest. 

With Censia’s Talent Intelligence, you can identify candidates that have experienced certain company events, are in certain sectors or verticals and have specific capabilities. Utilizing Censia will lead to discovering higher quality candidates and decrease time spent sourcing for them.

Further Reading

Succession Planning is Critical. Here are the traits that make the difference.

Censia’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion


Succession Planning is Critical. Here are the traits that make the difference.

Forget the Glass Ceiling. Here’s how to fix the Broken Rung.


Succession Planning is Critical. Here are the traits that make the difference.

The 5 Most Effective Talent Management Strategies


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