How Top-Performing CEOs Stand Out

By Stephen Garber

The stereotypical CEO is characterized as a charming, tall, white man educated from a top university, a strategic visionary on a vertical career trajectory with the ability to make perfect decisions under pressure. How many such people do you know? None, I bet.

Today’s business world is faster, smarter and, in many ways, younger than ever before.  You’re likely either in a tech-based startup or business—or you’re about to choose, or be forced—to transform your business to a “digital” model. Or, you’re already doing so. That takes real courage, conviction, investment and leadership.

What should that leadership look like?

A recent 10-year study—the CEO Genome Project, by Chicago-based leadership adviser ghSmart—busts a few myths. (Google it. It is rich with insight and information.) The firm used its proprietary database containing more than 17,000 in-depth assessments of C-suite executives, including 2,000 CEOs.  Some surprising findings:

• Introverts are slightly more likely than extroverts to surpass the expectations of their boards/investors.

• Virtually all CEOs have made substantial mistakes, and almost half of them had at least one major career blowup.

• Academic degree didn’t correlate to performance. Less than 10 percent of the CEOs they evaluated had an undergraduate Ivy League education.

• Confidence in interviews did not matter. High confidence more than doubles a candidate’s chances of being chosen as CEO but provides no advantage in performance on the job.

• Four specific behaviors prove critical to their performance. Research and experience suggest that when leaders aspire to move into the corner office and deliberately develop these behaviors, they dramatically raise the odds that they’ll become a high-performing chief executive.

In our next four articles, we will address each of these behaviors in depth. Here’s a quick summary:

1. Deciding with speed and conviction. No need for “all the data,” and comfortable with ambiguity.

2. Engaging for impact. High emotional intelligence—knowing what motivates various stakeholders, and how to works best with those motivations.

3. Adapting proactively. Stuff happens, and how you respond off-script matters most.

4. Delivering reliably. It’s all about results. Systems and processes matter. ♦

Stephen Garber is director of Third Level Ltd. Contact him at 561.752.5505 or sgarber@thirdlevel.com.

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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky



Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

He has also written for many of the country’s top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, USA Today, Worth, Robb Report, Afar, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Ritz-Carlton, Elite Traveler, Florida Design, Metropolis and Architectural Digest Mexico. His other clients have included Four Seasons, Acqualina Resort & Residences, Yahoo!, American Airlines, Wynn, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. As an adjunct assistant professor, Limsky has taught journalism, film and creative writing at the City University of New York, Pace University, American University and other colleges.