How to Become a Great CEO
- May 16, 2008
What does it take to become a great CEO? Much more than it did even five years ago to be sure. The rapidly changing global landscape and the evolving complexity of business makes the job of CEO something that is only well-suited for a rare few. For these reasons sustainable success at the C-suite level is an elusive thing in today’s business world. With the average tenure of a CEO being less than 5 years it is critical for executives to understand what it takes to beat the odds. In today’s column I’ll examine the characteristics that a CEO must posses in order to maintain his or her position and remain in control for as long as they choose.The job of CEO is all about managing expectations. Put simply a CEO’s shelf life will be equal to their ability to align vision with execution. A CEO must be able to focus on deploying the necessary resources at the right time to achieve to desired results. By exhibiting strong leadership skills a good CEO will manage talent, performance, change, innovation, influence, rapport, and messaging to consistently drive an enterprise forward regardless of circumstances. In my book “Leadership Matters…The CEO Survival Manual” I offer insights for CEOs, but if you don’t have time to read the book and still want to insure longevity as a CEO, work towards a mastery of the following characteristics:1. Integrity: Always do the right thing regardless of sentiment and never compromise your core values. If you cannot build trust and engender confidence with your stakeholders you cannot succeed. No amount of talent can overcome illegal, immoral or otherwise ill-advised actions. A leader void of integrity will not survive over the long-haul.2. Excellent Decision Making Skills: As a CEO you will live or die by the quality of the decisions you make. When you’re the CEO good decisioning is expected, poor decisioning won’t be tolerated, and great decisioning will set you apart from the masses.3. Ability to Focus: If you cannot focus you cannot perform at the level necessary to remain in the C-suite for very long. The ability to do nothing more than understand, and lock-onto priorities will place you in the top 10% of all executives.4. Leveraging Experience: Inexperience, a lack of maturity, needing to be the center of attention, not recognizing limitations, a lack of judgment, an inferior knowledge base, or any number of other common mistakes made by rookie CEOs can cause your house of cards to fall. If you don’t have the experience personally, hire it, contract it, but by all means acquire it. Great CEOs surround themselves with tier-one talent and the best advisors money can buy. They don’t make uniformed or ill-advised decisions in a vacuum.5. Command Presence: Great CEOs possess a strong presence and bearing. They are unflappable individuals that never let you see them sweat (unless of course it serves a purpose). Everything from how they carry themselves to how they speak and dress messages that they are in charge.6. Embracing Change: Great CEOs have a strong bias to action. They don’t rest upon past accomplishments and are always seeking to improve through change and innovation. In today’s fast paced and competitive environment those CEOs who don’t openly embrace change will often be shown the door prior to the expiration of their initial employment contract.7. Brand Champions: Great CEOs understand branding at every level. They seek to build not only a dominant corporate brand, but also a strong personal brand. CEOs that are not well branded on a personal basis, or who let their corporate brand fall into decline will not survive. 8. Boundless Energy: Great CEOs have a boundless amount of energy. They are positive in their outlook, and their attitude is contagious. A low energy CEO is not motivating, convincing or credible.9. Business Acumen: Great CEOs have a deep understanding of the business and a strong orientation toward profit. Great CEOs possess what often appears to be a sixth sense or an almost instinctive feel for what the company needs to do to make money and remain competitive.10. People Acumen: Great CEOs have a nose for talent…They understand how to recruit, develop and deploy talent while focusing on applying the best talent to the best opportunities. They also know when it’s time to make changes and cut losses as needed.11. Organizational Acumen: Great CEOs know how to engender trust, know when and how to share information, and are expert listeners. They develop strong and positive corporate cultures driven to performance by aligned motivations. They can quickly diagnose whether the organization is performing at full potential, delivering on commitments, and whether the company is changing and growing versus just operating.12. Curiosity: Great CEOs possess a powerful motivation to increase their knowledge base and to convert their learning into actionable initiatives. They question, challenge, confront and are never accepting of the status quo.13. Intellectual Capacity: Great CEOs are also great thinkers both at the strategic and tactical level. They are quick on their feet and know how to get to the root of an issue faster than anyone else. I’ve never met a great CEO who wasn’t extremely discerning.14. Global Mindset: Regardless of the geographical boundaries of the current business model great CEOs think globally. Limited thinking results in limited results. Whether global thinking is applied to capital formation, supply-chain issues, business development, strategic partnering, distribution, or any number of other areas, those CEOs who don’t grasp the importance of thinking globally will not endure. Great CEOs are externally oriented, hungry for knowledge of the world and adept at connecting developments and spotting patterns.15. Never Quit: Great CEOs refuse to lose…They have an insatiable appetite for accomplishment and results and while they may reengineer or change direction they will never lose sight of the end game.