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Career Advice

6 Types of CEOs You Should Never Work For

Posted by Amy Elisa Jackson

Last Updated May 5, 2017

When interviewing for a new job, it’s easy to get caught up evaluating your potential manager, the salary, and the company culture. However, there is one important place you should look before accepting an offer: the top. The CEO of a company should be a leader who inspires, motivates and charts a plan towards success.

A recent Glassdoor study showed that the opinion of senior leadership directly affects company culture and while many workers value work-life balance, they are willing to sacrifice it in exchange for great CEO leadership. If you are going to work long hours or rally with colleagues to achieve a big goal, you want to know that the woman or man at the top is working just as hard.

So how do you know which leaders to steer clear of and which to follow? Sure, it would be great to have a 20-minute chat with your potential CEO, but for most of us, that’s easier said than done. In lieu of a meeting with the head honcho, here’s a cheat sheet on the 6 types of CEOs to consider never working for.

1. The Unstoppable Dreamer
Who is it: Never short on big ideas and even bigger energy, but follow-through isn't his/her strong suit.
How bad is it: Innovators full of outlandish dreams can be attractive but wildly unpredictable with their bevy of ideas and nonstop ideations that are, yes, full of grandeur and potential but short on expertise and focus. Therefore, if you are someone who appreciates clear guidance, structure, and an achievable plan, the dreamer CEO is not for you. The best dreamers (think: Elon Musk and Bill Gates) also have a dash of expertise and understand the weight of asking others to follow their crazy ideas.
What to do: Try to ask questions in the interview about whether the CEO has a healthy balance of dream and doer. You need both to succeed.


[Related: 19 CEOs & Executives Reveal Their Best Advice]

2. The Train Conductor
Who is it: Type-A leader who keeps order, manages the business, manages the people and the systems.
How bad is it: Rigid dedication to schedule, order and consistency can be a buzz kill for innovation, creativity and variety. Typically, these types of leaders create an environment where the company is profitable and stable, business functions fairly well, but it doesn’t grow. Don't hold your breath for surprise announcements, exciting perks or disruptive innovation from the train conductor CEO. Business as usual.
What to do: If you're looking for stability and consistency, this is the right CEO for you. a straight forward nine-to-five with set expectations and a predictable roadmap. You'll get your marching orders and will be expected to execute.

[Related: Why the Golden Rule is The Secret to This CEO's Success]

3. The Artist
Who is it: A true visionary who stays true to the company's original ideation, no matter what.
How bad is it: Sometimes companies led by artists or creatives can have an amazing appearance, but internally there is chaos. The company barely makes a profit or could be operating in the red, however, the product and the marketing are truly captivating.
What to do: Evaluating the balance at the company is key. The CEO can be 70% creative or artist, but the other 30% should be a business-minded entrepreneur. Alternatively, the CEO should surround herself or himself with a strong executive team like the heads of Netflix, Pinterest, and even Lego CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp.

[Related: How Volvo America’s CEO is Leading A Major Brand Reinvention]

4. The Know-It-All
Who is it: With an opinion on every matter, this CEO prides himself/herself on being an expert on every facet of the business.
How bad is it: Many times, men and women elevate to positions of power and control thanks to their no-nonsense attitudes and strong personalities. It takes a person who believes in themselves and projects confidence 24-7 to rise to the top spot, however, that can come at a cost. Some know-it-alls can be completely blind to the reasons their company is struggling or failing because they swear they, and only they, have the right answers. Seeking outside help or insight from other CEOs, board members or leaders may be out of the question for him or her. Admitting defeat or challenges may be foreign, and thus employees are left in the dark, only to receive shocking news of a sale, layoffs, or complete shuttering.
What to do: Do your research on the CEO. Read articles about them to gain insight into who they seek advice from, how they make decisions (solo vs. in consultation with others), and whether their confidence is bolstered by true expertise versus arrogance.

[Related: Are You Ready to Be a CEO? Take Our Quiz]

5. The Squirrel
Who is it: Like his/her namesake, this person has a short attention span, is easily distracted and may be affected by “Shiny Object Syndrome”.
How bad is it: Multitasking is an essential to-do for any CEO, and many can juggle a thousand different demands at once. On the other hand, some leaders have the tendency to be easily distracted—a dangerous trait in the C-suite. Here's why: they can get sucked into unnecessary conversations and explorations; they lose sight of the end (read: ultimate) goal; they are unable to delegate work; they get sidetracked putting out fires, and they fail to make time for themselves. The end result? Burnout, unexecuted strategies, and half-baked projects. And that's the end result for YOU, the employee. Keeping up with a squirrel CEO is a losing battle.
What to do: If you currently have a squirrel CEO, find managers and mentors who can act as buffers, that can absorb the uncertainty for you and give you the guidance or structure you need to stay on task. It's unrealistic to quit unless you directly report to the CEO. Instead, spend time hammering out a strategy that accounts for your CEO's short attention span, and enables you to see—and work towards—the bigger picture.

[Related: How to Spot a Bad Boss During Your Interview]

6. The Serial Entrepreneur
Who is it: With a four-page resume, he or she started a company when they were 16, then another each year thereafter. Gets little sleep and is a co-founder of three start-ups.
How bad is it: Studies show that just 1-in-10 Americans become entrepreneurs, and the large majority (70 percent) of that subsection is filled with "one and done" entrepreneurs. Just under 30 percent of all entrepreneurs launch additional companies. In this rarified space, serial entrepreneurs can struggle with time management, scaling a business too fast, and having some of the same traits as the squirrel CEO. However, serial entrepreneurs like Ev Williams (Blogger, Twitter, Medium) and Marc Andreessen (Netscape, Ning, Andreessen Horowitz) prove that this elite group of CEOs can deliver success in a major way. Remember: for every one success story, there are dozens of failures.
What to do: Go in eyes open. The company you work for may be one of a few "projects" this CEO is passionate about. Don't put all of your eggs in this basket, especially if he or she isn't doing the same.