Successful CEOs possess each of the attributes described below. This is an unscientific analysis based upon my prior experience covering and acquiring companies (equity research analyst; M&A executive) as well as my current role as founder of CEORater.
It is important to recognize that while these attributes are qualitative in nature they do impact the bottom-line.
Effective communication is the most important attribute for CEOs to embody. Our lead photo is that of Steve Jobs, the Great Communicator.
- Great CEOs are great communicators: Great CEOs communicate effectively to shareholders, customers and most importantly – employees!
- Get your reps in: Jack Welch used to say that when he got sick of hearing himself repeat a particular message he knew that message was starting to take root with employees. Rocky Marciano knew the best way to maintain his edge on fight night was hard sparring during training camp.
- Coach the coaches: Want a force multiplier effect in your organization? Coach your direct reports.
Great CEOs hold themselves and direct reports (and by proxy all employees) accountable. Do not confuse accountability with intolerance for it is important to encourage smart risk.
Don’t shoot to kill: Sales person misses sales target. OK fine, no variable compensation reward for the period. What behavior will change as a result?
- Is there a communication breakdown in the sales process?
- Where is the pipeline weak?
- How are we engaging with customers and subsequently ingesting and disseminating that sales intelligence? Is that information circulated not only across the Sales organization but with Product Management?
If behavior changes for the better – i.e. improved communication – the miss may have been worth it.
3.) Employees First:
The tried and true principle of taking care of your own first. In return employees will take care of customers. The benefits trickle down to shareholders.
Past and present CEOs that put employees first:
- Sam Walton, Walmart;
- Aron Ain, Kronos;
- Jack Welch, GE;
- Tony Hsieh, Zappos;
- Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank, Home Depot;
- Reed Hastings, Netflix;
- Scott Scherr, Ultimate Software
Don’t confuse “taking care” of employees with free lunch, coffee bars and foosball tables. Those trivial items may help at the margin, but at the end of the day employees want to be recognized and rewarded for successful missions – both large and small.
4.) Intellectual Curiosity:
Intellectual Curiosity is an attribute we have paid increasing attention to as of late as we began our CEO Personality Analytics effort this May (“Personality Analytics: Technology CEOs Analyzed“)
Our experience is that intellectually curious CEOs are never satisfied (that’s not to say they are perpetually dissatisfied). They are relentless about “what comes next?” and “what aren’t we doing that we ought to be?”
- Intellectually curious CEOs are more likely to solicit feedback from direct reports.
- They are motivated to find the truth, not to have their opinions validated.
- Intellectually curious CEOs are more likely to consider and deploy creative strategies and tactics to deliver customer value.
- They view obstacles as opportunities rather than impediments.
- Intellectually curious CEOs create “adaptable” cultures capable of flexing their business model as customer dynamics and competitive landscapes change.
We consider long-term to mean 10 years or more. Similar to the “time value of money” principle where investment decisions made today can have an enormous impact in the out years, capital allocation decisions made today can impact a given company’s competitive positioning and operations in significant and unimaginable ways 10-20 years in the future.
- Amazon (AMZN): As recently as a few short years ago analysts beat up Amazon for re-investing profits when AMZN appeared to be close to achieving operating profit break-even. Those investments made over a 24-year period (primarily in physical distribution) have paid off handsomely, enabling Amazon to offer same-day delivery service for a mind-boggling number of products. A competitive “moat” if I’ve ever seen one.
- SS&C Technologies (SSNC): Founder, CEO Bill Stone and his team have taken a measured, strategic approach over the years to augmenting the “core” business with a series of reasonably valued strategic acquisitions. This strategic approach has enabled the company to build the deepest and broadest product and services portfolio across the financial services industry in non-discretionary product areas such as portfolio accounting. Early in the company’s life-cycle certain acquisitions may have seemed somewhat inconsequential. However, 30-plus years and $13 Billion of market cap later the company is the leading Financial Technology provider with solutions that address back, middle and front office workflows across the Financial Services industry.
No love without trust. One could also use the word “transparent” to describe a CEO that exhibits consistent behavior whether engaging with a senior executive, a front-line staffer or a customer. We opted for the word “trustworthy” because at the end of the day employees typically describe their CEO as someone they “trust” or don’t trust.
Why is it important for CEOs to be trustworthy? If employees don’t believe you “have their back” – they are less likely to break theirs – for you or for the company.