Before we identify the fundamental traits that blend together to create a successfully CEO, first let’s remind ourselves of what the role actually means, and what it entails. The role of a chief executive officer, or CEO as defined by The Management & Leadership Network, is as follows:
"The CEO is responsible for the success or failure of the company. Operations, marketing, strategy, financing, creation of company culture, human resources, hiring, firing, compliance with safety regulations, sales, PR, etc – it all falls on the CEO’s shoulders. The CEOs main duty is in setting strategy and vision. The senior management team can help develop strategy. Investors can approve a business plan. But the CEO ultimately sets the direction."
But while it is clear what role and responsibilities a CEO may have – and the overarching importance of their very being in relation to the company’s success – what is less evident are the key qualities that go into making a good CEO.
The most important attribute for an effective CEO is a total belief in oneself and in the people you are leading. This means that a CEO must be capable of exhibiting the confidence that comes with experience, to make decisions that he/she is totally committed to, decisions which are in the interests of the people that they work with. All too often, someone who is promoted into the top role of CEO can lose sense of this responsibility, feeling that the position grants them license to ‘do as they please’, rather than ‘please others with what they do’ ie work for their people rather than merely expect their people to work for them. It is this innate sense of leadership that will determine the difference between a, proven and highly capable manager and an inspirational leader who exhibits the enthusiasm, dedication, empathy and total commitment to their people and to the job in hand. While confidence and self-belief are absolutely vital to succeed in the role, this must always be balanced with an appreciation that there is always room for improvement and scope to further hone their skills – for the benefit of the company, its employees and its shareholders.
Recognition and reward
An effective CEO must also realise the power of recognition and accept that, without various key team players, there is effectively no team. Of the four great motivators (recognition, job satisfaction, job security and reward), recognition is by far the most powerful and it is generally given without cost. Finding time to bestow thanks and recognition to the people in the business who go that extra mile and who give that little bit extra to get results, is a vital trait for any CEO looking to create an inspirational and therefore positive and successful work culture.
There is nothing mystical or magical about becoming a good CEO but it is important to develop one’s own style, the individual must recognise that they either have a personality profile that indicates an ‘inspirational leader’ or a ‘management style leader’. Increasingly, companies are being led by management by consensus, rather than by the dynamic ‘boot therapy’ leaders of old. This arrangement will only work if the CEO amasses a senior work force with a mix of personality profiles to create the ultimate dream team.
Personality profiling tools can enable a CEO to not only determine their own style of leadership, but also to identify the main personality types of key players within the business. This will also deliver an improved understanding of employees and how they work together which will have massive commercial implications for the organisation. An improved insight into individual and team personality traits enables a CEO to realise the true potential of existing staff as well as recognising the desired traits for future employees, to ensure the company’s continued business success.
Finding a suitable mentor is a further consideration for any aspiring CEO. "Up to 20% of what makes a good CEO is mentoring and coaching," says Max Landsberg, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles. "Find people who can help you at turning points in your career or can help you find turning points."
The CEO Institute (the leading network of business leaders in Australia) suggests that CEOs who seek out a mentor will benefit enormously. Specifically it believes that mentors can help CEOs develop increased confidence and provide direct access to a unique sounding board. A mentor will also stimulate personal growth and provide tailored support. Their role is to offer guidance that leads to improved knowledge and to assist in developing a framework for clarity in relation to setting personal goals. Finally, a mentor has the ability to ensure complacency does not set in, by constantly challenging thought processes and providing regular exposure to new ideas, insights and fresh ways of thinking.
CEOs in a minute
- Average tenure of chief executives is six years in the United States and five years in Europe
- In the US, 38% of chief executives have MBAs, against 16% in Europe
- Chief executives work for an average of three companies during their professional career
- The average age of European chief executives is 54 years, two years younger than in America
Source: A survey of 1,001 chief executives by Monika Hamori at Instituto de Empresa Business School, Madrid
Joe Adams (pictured) is CEO of Adams & Associates and director of the Executive Association of Great Britain