CEOs are everywhere, but great ones are far and few between. Hitting sales goals and keeping costs inline are achievements that good CEOs must meet in order to keep stakeholders happy, but it takes more than that to get accolades from employees.
“It’s very hard to be a great CEO,” says Paul Winum, senior partner and global practice leader at RHR International, the executive consulting firm. “Because the job is extremely difficult and complex there are various attributes and dimensions to being great.”
While customers and shareholders are important groups, a CEO has to please – if the employees don’t respect their leader the business will ultimately suffer. But what does it take to be popular among employees and how can HR professionals help foster this? According to career experts, there are five key attributes to keep in mind:
1. Effective Leadership. Personality matters, but even ahead of that a high ranking CEO is one that is an effective leader and is successful at growing the business. After all, no matter how great a CEO is, if the business is hemorrhaging cash and it’s not clear if it will be around for much longer, that CEO is not going to gain the respect of his or her employees. “If they do not make the decisions that will effectively lead the company to be successful, they are not going to be around for very long,” says Winum. “First and foremost people admire and want to work for CEOs that lead winning companies.”
Of the 50 highest rated CEOs on Glassdoor’s recent report, five of them are from companies that are prospering. For instance Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ranked number one with a 99% approval rating, while SAP co-CEO s Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann were a close second with a 99% rating. Rounding out the top five were Dominic Barton, CEO of McKinsey & Company who garnered a 97% approval rating, Jim Turley, the CEO of Ernst & Young who got a 96% approval rating and John E. Schlifske, CEO of Northwestern Mutual who also came in with a 96% approval rating.
2. Entrepreneurial Spirit. Even if the CEO has been in his or her job for years or is at the helm of a stodgy company, having an entrepreneurial spirit is one characteristic that a great CEO has. “They have to have that burning desire to create and build something,” says Amanda Augustine, the job search expert for TheLadders.“They have to have passion and belief behind what they are doing. I don’t know anyone that can become a CEO if they don’t believe in the mission.” Nothing builds more loyalty in a company than a leader that came from nothing but was able to crawl his or her way up to the top position. For instance, Xerox former Chief Executive Anne Mulcahy was loved by employees and she started out as a salesperson.
3. Invests in Company Culture. Every company’s culture is different, but the one attribute all high ranking CEOs share is a true belief and support of whatever the company culture may be. According to Winum, employees are drawn to companies that have CEOS who understand how important the work culture is and invests in it. “Employees want to work at places where they can grow their skills and flourish in ways other than picking up a pay check,” he says.
4. Confident Yet Down-to-Earth Personality. Some of the best CEOs are ones that don’t put themselves on a pedestal, opting instead to be confident yet accessible. They are typically smart, forceful and confident, but at the same time humble and good listeners, says Russell Reynolds founder, chairman and chief executive of RSR Partners, the executive search firm. “A CEO should be generous and organized,” says Reynolds. “They should have an attitude of serving, not ‘dominating’ by force.” According to Reynolds, a CEO loved by employees is usually highly ethical, discrete, funny and a visionary. “Having a strategic plan out to five years is essential so people know where you are going,” he says.
5. Visible Both Inside & Outside the Company. Prestige is a motivator when people are choosing a job and if the CEO of the company is well known that can be a reason to join a firm or stay at one. “Employees like to read about their CEO and see their CEO talked about in the news and on TV,” says Winum. “It builds a sense of pride if they are identified with someone who is sought after by an external audience.”
Not only should the CEO be visible outside the confines of the office, but according to Winum he or she should also have a presence inside. That doesn’t mean the CEO has to spend hours each week getting to know all the employees, but he or she can boost morale by doing the occasional walk through at the office, applauding employees with handwritten notes or having a town hall meeting every quarter or so. “The really great CEOs that develop stickiness for the workforce have some degree of personal visibility and accessibility,” says Winum. “People like to feel like they know who their CEO is.”