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executive-traits

There’s something fascinating about success. Why do some people rise to the ranks of upper management, and beyond that, what leads some CEOs to run truly groundbreaking companies that change the face of business?

A poster on the website Quora recently asked, “What separates the top 10 percent of startup CEOs from the rest,” and as Jessica Stillman of Inc. writes in a great story for the Dailiy Muse, the question generated a lot of responses. Many of those who offered their two cents are people worth way more than two cents — in fact they’re some of the execs and investors who know firsthand why certain types of innovative folks jump out from the pack.

Stillman combed through the Quora thread and picked out five themes that surfaced again and again. While these are common among CEOs, they’re applicable across the board, and there’s a lot the average worker can learn from reading the post. First up on the list of qualities: “resilience.” According to Robert Scoble, who studies startups for Rackspace, it took Airbnb 1,000 days to really get going. It would have been easy to get discouraged on day 999 (or, say, 423) and quit, but the company didn’t.

“The best CEOs find a way to dig in and keep going even when it seems everything is going against them,” Scoble writes.

Why do they do that? You  might chalk it up to “passion,” which also made the list. In the CEO game, being a workaholic isn’t enough. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing — perhaps even to the point that you’re willing to work mega-long workweeks. As digital marketer R.G. Riles says, the best CEO he’s ever worked for routinely put in 80 hours a week.

Another crucial quality is “integrity,” though as Stillman point out, it’s not for the reasons you might think. Virtue and morality are part of it, but really, being a successful CEO means being a “survivor,” and in the business world, you don’t keep yourself afloat for years and years unless yours is a closet fairly devoid of skeletons.

Being squeaky clean doesn’t mean refraining from creative problem solving, though. The next trait is “craftiness,” or perhaps the ability to be “wily,” as John Greathouse, a partner at Rincon Venture Partners, writes. The reason? Startup CEOs don’t have the luxury of spending large sums of money to overcome problems, so they have to think outside the box and try new things.

CEOs don’t just solve tricky problems, of course. They also make decisions and do a whole lot of convincing. That brings us to the last key trait: “the gift of gab.” Having a vision is terrific, but you’ve got to get employees, investors, and other stakeholders to go along with it, and that’s not easy.

“CEOs have to deal with conflicting interest groups. Customers often want something investors don’t,” says Debbie Madden, CEO of stride. “So a good CEO is really great at convincing other people to get on board, even at changing people’s opinions.”