5 Traits You Must Have If You Want To Be A Successful CEO

5 Traits You Must Have If You Want To Be A Successful CEO

Do you think you have what it takes to be BPOC (big person on campus) in your company or another one?

Do you have the required characteristics to be the person in the corner office, in other words the CEO?

Most of the clients I work with aspire to achieve such lofty goals, but many of them don’t really know what it takes to get that job and succeed at it.  Here are five traits you must-have to be a successful CEO:

  1. Risk Assessment Skills. One of the critical skills for the CEO is the ability to quickly gut-check the risk and reward of a scenario and make a GO/NO-GO decision. This is one area where all the models in the world won’t help.  Knowing as many facts as you can before deciding is helpful, but sometimes too much information is worse than not enough. The true CEO will be bold and aggressive, pushing their agenda when they feel it is right.  Fred Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx, dropped out of business school when he was told there was no market for overnight package delivery.
  2. Inspirational Role Model. The CEO is the true leader of the enterprise.  As such he must represent what is “great” about the company.  In order to truly lead, the CEO must serve as the inspiration and role model. If the company talks about corporate social responsibility, the CEO must be visible in talks about going green.  If the CEO champions the use of technology to ‘lean up’ the business, she better not be littering her desk with post-it notes.  The CEO should be the hallmark of everything that is “great” about the company. Steve Jobs is Apple in a turtleneck and everybody at Apple calls him Steve. He epitomizes everything that Apple aspires to be.
  3. Flexible. The CEO realizes that he doesn’t know everything.  Great CEOs, while they are the ultimate decision makers, are smart enough to listen to their team and evaluate the skills and detailed knowledge that subordinates bring to the discussion.  While they should be stiff in their resolve once they have decided upon a course of action, they should not be afraid to be persuaded to change their minds. Bill Gates was almost too late to the game on the Internet – he believed it would never be much of anything, and it almost cost them.  Once he realized his mistake, he devoted immense resources to get back in the game and Microsoft is now a leader in all things Internet.
  4. Decisive. The CEO’s direct reports are supposed to provide the CEO with a high level overview of each of the areas that make up the enterprise.  Information is power and the CEO must know everything she can in order to make the right decision.  As part of that decision making process, the CEO has the ultimate responsibility and must be comfortable making the decision, even if she knows not everyone will agree. Phil Knight, former CEO of Nike, was told by those around him that there was no market for a dedicated line of running shoes – and now everybody “just does it.”
  5. Ability to Delegate. Good CEOs know how to let go of the reigns.  They surround themselves with people they trust to get the job done and give authority to people in other leadership positions. They rarely micro-manage; instead, they ask their senior level team to provide regular updates on matters that are important for corporate health and growth.  The CEO that tries to control every detail gets burnt out and loses the support of the team that knows she won’t let them do their jobs.  I struggled with this until recently myself.  I thought I had to do it all with the result that I did most of it, but not as well as it needed to be done. Over the last year, I have delegated much of the operational and financial activity to others on our management team.  I now get more done in less time and the company has never been stronger.

It is true that different companies have different needs depending on what they do for a living, the size and scope of their business, and the growth stage of the company. Nevertheless, the core traits that make a good CEO do not waver much. Additionally, no single CEO is perfect in all of the areas listed above.  Each leader is unique and will have strengths and shortcomings.  Those who are striving to become CEOs should work on bolstering some of these competencies as they follow their career roadmap to the top.

Categories: Career Advice

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