Success is not random…CEOs need to realize that neither their success, nor their failure is a random act. CEOs also can rarely lay blame for their victories and losses on anyone other than themselves. Top CEOs have a knack for consistently exhibiting the right combination of skill sets, competencies, leadership aptitude, and decisioning ability. Failed CEOs simply do not. Having success as a CEO is little more than a matter of understanding where and when to apply leverage to highest and best use activities. In today’s post we’re going back to “CEO 101” to get a bit of a refresher course on things you should already know, but that you most probably fail to apply correctly on a day-to-day basis…

So, what does it take to become a top CEO? Much more than it did even 5 years ago to be sure. The rapidly changing global landscape, and the evolving complexity of business, makes the job of CEO something that is only well suited for a rare few. For these reasons sustainable success at the C-suite level has become a very elusive thing. With the average tenure of a CEO being less than 4 years, it is critical for executives to understand what it takes to beat the odds. In the review that follows, I’ll examine the characteristics necessary to both achieve and sustain success as a CEO…

The job of CEO is all about managing expectations. Put simply, a CEO’s shelf life will be equal to their ability to align values, vision, and passion with execution. A CEO must be able to focus on deploying the necessary resources, at the right time, to achieve to desired results. By exhibiting strong leadership skills, top CEOs manage talent, performance, change, innovation, influence, rapport, and messaging to consistently drive an enterprise forward regardless of circumstances. If you want to insure longevity as a CEO, work towards developing a high degree of competency in the following areas:

  1. Integrity: Always do the right thing regardless of peer pressure and/or public sentiment, and above all, never compromise your core values. If you cannot build trust and engender confidence with your stakeholders you cannot succeed. No amount of talent can overcome illegal, immoral, or otherwise ill-advised actions. A leader void of integrity will not survive over the long-haul. (see “Character Matters“)

  2. Excellent Decision Making Skills: As a CEO you will live or die by the quality of the decisions you make. When you’re the CEO good decisioning is expected, poor decisioning won’t be tolerated and great decisioning will set you apart from the masses. (see “Executive Decisioning“)

  3. Ability to Focus: If you cannot focus you cannot perform at the level necessary to remain in the C-suite for very long. The ability to do nothing more than understand and lock-onto priorities will place you in the top 10% of all executives. (see “The Power of Focus“)

  4. Leveraging Experience: Inexperience, a lack of maturity, needing to be the center of attention, not recognizing limitations, a lack of judgment, an inferior knowledge base or any number of other common mistakes made by rookie CEOs can cause your house of cards to fall. If you don’t have the experience personally, hire it, contract it, but by all means acquire it. Great CEOs surround themselves with tier-one talent and the best advisers money can buy. They don’t make uniformed or ill-advised decisions in a vacuum. (see “Young CEOs“)

  5. Command Presence: Great CEOs possess a strong presence and bearing. They are unflappable individuals that never let you see them sweat (unless of course it serves a purpose). Everything from how they carry themselves to how they speak and dress messages that they are in charge. (see “Never Let Them See You Sweat“)

  6. Embracing Change: Great CEOs have a strong bias to action. They don’t rest upon past accomplishments and are always seeking to improve through change and innovation. In today’s fast paced and competitive environment those CEOs who don’t openly embrace change will often be shown the door prior to the expiration of their initial employment contract. (see “Catalyzing Change“)

  7. Brand Champions: Great CEOs understand branding at every level. They seek to build not only a dominant corporate brand, but also a strong personal brand. CEOs that are not well branded on a personal basis or who let their corporate brand fall into decline will not survive. (see “Branding Demystified“)

  8. Boundless Energy: Great CEOs have a boundless amount of energy. They are positive in their outlook, and their attitude is contagious. A low energy CEO is not motivating, convincing, or credible. (Since I don’t yet have a dedicated post on this topic, I guess I’ll need to expand my thinking in the days ahead…)

  9. Business Acumen: Great CEOs have a deep understanding of the business and a strong orientation toward profit. Great CEOs possess what often appears to be a sixth sense or an almost instinctive feel for what the company needs to do to make money and remain competitive. (see “Leadership DNA“)

  10. People Acumen: Great CEOs have a nose for talent…They understand how to recruit, develop and deploy talent focusing on applying the best talent to the best opportunities. They also know when it’s time to make changes and cut losses as needed. (see “Employee Engagement“)

  11. Organizational Acumen: Great CEOs know how to engendering trust, when and how to share information, and are expert listeners. They develop strong and positive corporate cultures driven to performance by aligned motivations. They can quickly diagnose whether the organization is performing at full potential, delivering on commitments, and whether the company is changing and growing versus just operating. (see “Making The Most of Talent“)

  12. Curiosity: Great CEOs possess a powerful motivation to increase their knowledge base and to convert their learning into actionable initiatives. They question, challenge, confront, and are never accepting of the status quo. (see “The Downside of Best Practices“)

  13. Intellectual Capacity: Great CEOs are also great thinkers both at the strategic and tactical levels. They are quick on their feet and know how to get to the root of an issue faster than anyone else. I’ve never met a great CEO who wasn’t extremely discerning. (see “Critical Thinking“)

  14. Global Mindset: Regardless of the geographical boundaries of the current business model great CEOs think globally. Limited thinking results in limited results. Whether global thinking is applied to capital formation, supply-chain issues, business development, strategic partnering, distribution or any number of other areas those CEOs who don’t grasp the importance of thinking globally will not endure. Great CEOs are externally oriented, hungry for knowledge of the world and adept at connecting developments and spotting patterns. (see “The Impact of Globalization“)

  15. Never Quit: Great CEOs refuse to lose…They have an insatiable appetite for accomplishment and results and while they may reengineer or change direction they will never lose sight of the end game. (see “Play To Win“)


Mike Myatt
Mike Myatt

Mike Myatt is a leadership advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs and their Boards of Directors. Widely regarded as America’s Top CEO Coach, he is recognized by Thinkers50 as a global authority on leadership. He is the bestselling author of Hacking Leadership (Wiley) and Leadership Matters… (OP), a Forbes leadership columnist, and is the Founder and Chairman at N2Growth.

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