What makes someone a good CEO?

What qualities make a good CEO

A  question that comes up regularly in my meetings as a leadership and executive coach is what makes someone a good CEO.

Whether a founder CEO or not, there are certain qualities when it comes to leadership, communication and behaviours that increase your impact as a CEO and indeed, when adopted and honed, can make life a lot easier and less stressful.

I would definitely say that there is no one particular “correct” way of being when it comes to leadership as everyone has their own character and way of doing things and these are the things that make us stand out (positively or negatively).  To be authentic is essential.  It is simply too exhausting to act like someone else that you’ve read about and who is a “super successful CEO”. However, there are a host of qualities and skills that can be learned or if we are already doing some of them, magnified or highlighted that can optimise success and dare I say, enjoyment in the role.

These leadership skills and qualities / areas to focus on have come from many conversations and coaching sessions with CEOs from all sorts of businesses and organisations and are tried and tested, with generally good results.  It’s not always easy and there is no magic wand to change things over night – any changes or learning take time and practice (sorry!), but as they say “where attention goes, energy flows” and bringing a sharp focus to achieving better leadership skills means that, eventually you will get there.

If you’re reading this, you are probably already a CEO who may be struggling in some areas or wanting to change some aspects of behaviours to see if your leadership style can be improved in some way, or you could be thinking about working you way towards a senior role and wanting to put in places certain behaviours that will increase your chances of getting there.  I’m a firm believer in doing something different as , in the words of Einstein

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. 

Sometimes a small change can deliver noticeable results.

Areas to concentrate on and skills to work on are as follows:

Seeing the bigger picture

Successful CEOs are good at seeing the bigger picture.  They have a clear vision of where they want the company to go.  It’s too easy to become distracted by the day to day and from here, things don’t change they stay the same.  Ask yourself where you see the company going, bring on board ideas from your senior leaderships team, ask everyone why not? You might learn something you didn’t know which could inspire a new direction.  But do focus on where you’re going. 

Being good at communicating

They are good at communicating this to others in an inspiring way that really gets people on board. This doesn’t have to necessarily be in the form of great oratory skills, it can be delivered in a more subtle way, by telling good, compelling stories that people can relate to and feel part of. Communicating well wins over people, gives them a feeling of belonging, an insight into the what and the why.

Focusing on company culture

A great CEO has a clear idea of the company culture they want to create and prioritise actions that will continue to build it, through good communication. There are plenty of theories and books on company culture, and research is useful, but you will have your own ideas too along with asking others for input, all of which will help you build a successful and thriving culture.  What would you like others to say about your company or organisations? What gets the best out of others? In your experience in your earlier career, what inspired you? What turned you off or frustrated you?

Strategic thinking

Considering the what not the how.  What do you want to achieve? What will this look like? Don’t get obsessed with the “how” you are going to do it.  Yes, work to create a plan of what is needed, but ensure others actually carry it out.  You can then hold them accountable to ensure it happens.  Encourage your senior leadership team to do the same.  To be clear about what they see happening and how that fits in with the over all strategy. Read more about strategic thinking here.

Not being victim to the “to do list”

It’s too easy to keep your attention on the to do list, all the small, daily actions that you can do.  The more this becomes the focus, the less you will move things forward.  This is most people’s comfort zone.  And this fills time.  But asking yourself what is actually going to make things happen, fulfil the vision and move things forward, means delegating the smaller stuff to others.  Too many CEOs behave like managers and micro managers at that. Set the vision and keep everyone moving towards it.  So much more will be achieved in this way. Do all you can to avoid doing the job yourself because others can do it well enough or the way you would do it. Which leads nicely to….

Trusting others

You have to if you’re going to get anything done.  And people thrive when they’re trusted.

Having a thick skin

You cannot afford to take things personally.  Things go wrong, people get upset or offended. As long as you’re behaving according to your moral compass and vision, you cannot let everyone’s reaction upset you.  It’s too stressful. And distracting.  Things can be even harder if you’re the founder and CEO as this is your baby.  But you have to detach yourself a little or you will become difficult to work with, find yourself getting defensive and losing sight of what you want to achieve. If you struggle with worrying overly about what people think, reading this might help.

Making decisions 

Being clear and certain when it comes to decision making is essential.  People will constantly look to you for decisions.  It’s possible if things go wrong they will blame you more if you didn’t make the decision quickly enough (or at all).  Recognise not all decision will be the right ones, but at least you were decisive. And if you want to build a culture where mistakes are not punished, here is an opportunity for you to model this behaviour.

Being innovative

Clearly not all the time as consistency is indeed important, but having  and being open to original ideas, new ways of approaching problems can be inspiring for others and can open up new and better ways of getting things done and growing the company.

Being a risk taker

Along with the decision making and being innovative, a CEO will inevitably face times where there is no clear route for success and taking a risk is necessary.  Being able to asses the consequences and gauge what measures need to be put in place to mitigate the level of risk is important and again, communicating why it’s happening and getting people on side successfully can really help.  It can take a fair amount of self belief and confidence to take risks and stand by them and talking it through with trusted colleagues is a good idea.

Looking after yourself

All the above can come with practice and experience.  Another thing that increases the likelihood of you adopting and honing those behaviours and skills is making sure you are feeling OK.  Don’t we all find that on a bad day, if we’ve been stressed, a sleepless night, bad nutrition, we find the smaller, simples decisions difficult and a relatively inconsequential comment from another can blow up into something ridiculous.  Do all that you can to make sure you’re in a good place physically and mentally.  It’s known to increase resilience and must be a priority.  Sharing what’s on your mind helps too.  Getting another perspective.  That can be where coaching comes in.

It can be an isolating place and you are human.  You will experience challenges, success, highs and lows.  Not all of it will be shareable with your team or colleagues.  Many CEOs and leaders that I work with say that taking the time to look at everything from a different perspective, with a non judgmental, non invested coach can give them a competitive edge in addition to the ability to focus on what’s important.

If you’d like to talk about how coaching might work, get in touch by email or give me a ring 07785 996917.