WHO WANTS TO BE A CEO ?
November 14, 2011 2 Comments
I am often asked about what characteristics I believe are needed to be able to become a successful CEO. It’s not an easy question to answer as there are so many different aspects that one can address, and libraries of management books have been written in an attempt to quantify some reasonable directions for those that are keen to see whether they have the wherewithal to get to the top office.
I understand that a CEO needs to be able to drop the “I” in favour of “We”, have a good strategic mind, be creative, be able to build a great team, be able to delegate and cascade responsibilities through the organisation and possess many more elements that are key to all senior executives, but I also believe that there are some characteristics that are at the heart of, and are specific and critical to, being a great CEO.
Here are just a few that I consider to be mandatory.
1. While you don’t always have to be right, you do have to always appear to be certain.
Once you have all the needed input from all relevant areas, you have to be able to make a decision, come up with an idea, a plan, a strategy and act quickly to make it happen, taking your team with you. I understand that “consensus” is important in the leadership team (See “Stupid Management Ideas” posted 29 August 2011), but the role of the leader is to ultimately choose a direction and pull the team together to achieve it. You cannot allow the organisation to flounder through indecision at the top.
2. Being a business leader is not just about being able to paint a wonderful picture of what can be done, but means that you are able to keep a watchful eye on the business, ensuring that everyone has an understanding of where they fit in, what is expected of them, and how they need to go about successfully fulfilling their role, all driven with a sense of urgency to make it happen.This means that you need to have a real understanding of what is happening in every part of your own business as well as within your external ecosystem. It means understanding what behaviours are being reinforced at all levels, rather than just a belief that “If it is stated, so it shall be”.
3. You really do have to fully understand the numbers.
It’s not enough to be able to read, understand and decipher the P&L and the Balance Sheet, but you have to get to a point where you have a solid feel for what is happening in the organisation from every aspect of the business, and to be able to use the numbers to drive needed change. Great CEOs can “smell” things that are starting to fester before they go bad, and will act immediately to drive initiatives to attack areas of potential weakness.
4. A CEO needs to be passionate about identifying and solving problems, and being able to understand the ones that s/he needs to specifically focus on, and those that should be delegated to others. There will always be too many things to do in the time available and the most successful CEOs know which problem areas s/he should attack with passion, these being the most critical for them to personally address for the success of the organisation. CEOs must learn to manage their time expertly by making sure that they understand how to focus their energies on the important issues rather than just the urgent ones.
5. You will need to have a highly developed sense of farsightedness, even prescience, to be able to understand what has to be done for the future health of the business. This means that you will need to be at “expert” level in what is happening in your industry, in your competitors and most importantly with your customers’ changing needs and expectations. You will also need an ability to look around corners as well as just looking straight ahead. What can appear as a tangent to others can also be an important business direction for the future needs of yourmarketplace.
6. You have to be a great communicator, rather than just a great public speaker, though it does help if you can develop and hone this skill to an art form as well. You will need to ensure that people have a clear understanding of what needs to be done and their roles in achieving the set goals, and to do this well CEOs need to have highly developed written and oral skills. This means being concise, specific and non-ambiguous. You will also need strong communication skills to be able to build confidence in staff, investors, partners and customers not only when the business is humming, but also when the company is facing challenges, which even a great company gets to do from time to time.
7. You have to learn to skilfully sift reality from bullshit.
“If it sounds too good to be true it probably is” is a great starting point, and commitments that are not built on valid, measurable and reliable data (such as a strong pipeline supporting an aggressive forecast), should be relegated to hope rather than substance. The higher you climb, no matter how approachable you believe you are, the harder it will be for people to tell you any really bad news. You have to ensure that people understand that the sooner weaknesses can be identified the sooner they can be addressed and rectified, and you cannot have people around you that do not help you drive the business based on all realities, not just the pleasant ones.
As Peter Drucker said “There is nothing that is so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”