Characteristics of Good CEO’s


I am asked often what defines a good CEO. This is quickly followed up by stories of “let me tell you about our CEO!” Normally, it is not to tell me a good story! I have the pleasure of coaching many CEO’s of large and small companies, public and private, family owned and employee owned. I can say that there is no perfect CEO but I have found some characteristics that I will share here. I would also encourage you to listen to the Freakonomics broadcast. They have been doing a great series on How to Become a C.E.O.

HBR wrote an interesting article in the May-June 2017 issue called “What Sets Successful CEO’s Apart” by Botelho, Powell, Kincaid and Wang. Here is the link: https://hbr.org/2017/05/what-sets-successful-ceos-apart 

The 4 keys from their study were:

1.     Deciding with speed and conviction

2.     Engaging for impact

3.     Adopting Proactively

4.     Delivering Reliably

Here are some of the ones that I see in the successful CEO’s I coach—

-Set clear expectations

-Spend 50% or more of your time on long term planning

-Set clear expectations and give people room to be creative

-Learning continuously

-Spend time networking with people outside the organization

-Invite conflict but find consensus before moving on

-Mentor key talent

-Understand the needs of the Board/Key Stakeholders and Lead them

-Recognize accomplishments and celebrate the behaviors you want to foster

-Understand you are on a stage and everyone hangs on your words

-You have a serious job but do not take yourself too seriously—show you are human

-Find a coach, mentor or good executive round table to be able to have a thinking partner

The CEO role is a demanding, challenging and can be all consuming. Many of the CEO’s I know are lonely. This is the reason that many seek executive coaching or join an executive round table. I highly encourage this so that the CEO has a thinking partner which can help hold them accountable. The most successful CEO’s are really great at prioritizing and know how to say no. They also know how to delegate effectively without directing the work. The CEO’s that I see that get burned out tend to direct work, feel it must be done a certain way or do not hire/grow strong enough talent around them.

A final characteristic that I see in successful CEO’s are their ability to not take things so personally. They do from time to time but most of the time they can hear the feedback and can attach the problems they are choosing. My favorite line from this week was from a female CEO who said this about a star performer-“I personally think she is a b*t$h, but I think I will let it go.” I asked why she felt this way and she said, “I do not have to be her friend, she does great work and her people like working with her.” This is a hard thing to learn but sums up life as a CEO. You have to pick your battles, be confident in your decisions, lead with vision, expectations and recognition and try to understand that everyone is watching while still being authentic.

If you are a CEO or hope to be one, what is the characteristic that you want to develop? For me, it has been not getting distracted by the day to day and spending time thinking long term. It also took me a while to not let things affect me personally. Let me know what you are working on or if you need help. Good luck!