5 Visionary CEOs and Their Key Traits That Every Leader Should Master

You may believe that the leaders you admire are smarter, luckier or more creative than you, but the attributes that make them wildly successful can be honed over time.

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By Chuck Cohn • Feb 24, 2015

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Aspiring CEOs often view the work of visionary leaders such as Elon Musk and Alan Mullaly and promptly place them on a pedestal. You may believe that the leaders you admire are smarter, luckier or more creative than you, but the traits that make them wildly successful can be honed over time.

These characteristics have dictated how these leaders have responded in the face of adversity, maximized available resources and made the decisions that set them apart. Here are five CEOs I admire and the traits entrepreneurs can hone to duplicate their success.

1. Elon Musk: Relentless innovation

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, has revolutionized entire industries with his focus on moving beyond the status quo.

Related: 6 Personality Traits That Can Make You a More Trusted Entrepreneur

Both companies faced bankruptcy in 2008, and Musk was forced to decide between allocating his remaining funds between the companies or focusing on one. He felt compelled to support both ventures, and the risk paid off. Tesla is trumping Ford and General Motors with gross profit margins well over 20 percent, while SpaceX was one of two companies chosen by NASA to develop the next generation of systems to take U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station.

"If things are not failing," Musk says, "you are not innovating enough."

2. Nick Woodman: Focus

GoPro CEO Nick Woodman's idea was born from a personal problem: not being able to take great pictures and videos while surfing. After months of intense focus, a prototype was born. Woodman is now focused on building a bigger platform to allow GoPro users to easily share videos.

Founded 12 years ago, GoPro has made Woodman worth $1.3 billion. The company name is almost synonymous with the product category, like Xerox once was with copying.

3. Alan Mulally: Resilience

As Ford Motor Company's former president and CEO, Alan Mulally is behind "one of the most impressive corporate turnarounds in history." Mulally guided Ford out of billions in losses and avoided bankruptcy without government bailouts. His focus on teamwork and accountability created a new company culture that drove results and focused on positive leadership with a vision toward moving forward.

4. Shantanu Narayen: Adaptability

Businesses that become stagnant usually die. Adobe Systems CEO Shantanu Narayen looked down the road and didn't see a future that included distributing software on physical discs. He decided to change the widely-used Adobe Creative Suite to a subscription-based model.

He wasn't the first, as Netflix had added streaming to its DVD rental services. But Adobe's graphic design empire was built on its box sets and annual releases of new versions. Narayen boldly changed his company's distribution model, and the growth in subscription members has proven its success.

Related: The 8 Instinctive Habits of Remarkable Leaders

5. Philip Krim: Reimagining

Casper CEO Philip Krim, along with his co-founders, has completely reimagined the process of buying a bed. From the price to the delivery -- the mattresses are shipped compressed in reasonably sized boxes -- this startup has thought through the entire process, including a 100-day trial period.

The company, which launched in April, raised more than $15 million in funding and earned more than $1 million in revenue in its first month of business. Krim's success proves that innovation isn't only for high-tech industries.

How to cultivate your own successful traits

As a leader, you may not embody all of the traits mentioned above, and that's OK. It's important to know which traits come naturally to you and which may not.

While you don't have to follow all the advice you receive, remain receptive to new ideas. As you accumulate experience, examine your actions and ask for regular feedback to discover your strengths and weaknesses.

To develop your own leadership style, find a variety of mentors. Mentors can provide experienced perspectives to help you determine the best way to respond to business challenges. These mentors could be peers, potential investors or leaders from entirely different industries.

Don't just rely on your mentors' experience -- search for case studies. Consume as many news stories, articles, documentaries, books and blog posts as you can to learn how others approach challenges.

Finally, network to gain additional perspectives. Take advantage of workshops, conferences and other opportunities focused on leadership development to learn new skills and network with others who can offer diverse points of view.

Many of the leaders you admire aren't superhuman -- they've honed their ability to utilize their best traits to drive positive change within their organizations. Your approach to a situation can mean the difference between positive mental health and burnout, profit and loss and success and failure. When you learn to harness your greatest strengths, you become a better leader and a catalyst for change.

Related: The Difference Between Successful and Very Successful People

Chuck Cohn

CEO and Founder of Varsity Tutors

Chuck Cohn is the CEO and founder of Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.

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