Notebook #01 – What makes a good CEO?

I was recently asked by an international organisation for my thoughts on the traits good CEOs exhibit. They were in the midst of a selection process for their new CEO and, being a prudent board member, my contact wanted to make sure that they had all their bases covered. Over the next three notebooks, I relay some of what I said. In this one, I consider the main traits that a good CEO displays day-in, day-out.

Courage: Being at the top of an organisation is a lonely place to be. It is your job to inspire the entire organisation and to call the shots. More often that not, the decisions you need to make are going to be tough, not self-evident and have wide-ranging implications. It requires significant amounts of courage to make a call which you know is going to be unpopular or unconventional, no matter how necessary it may be.

Curiosity: Another important trait is curiosity and the eagerness to learn. It develops a CEO’s ability to evaluate the macro and micro situations and to anticipate challenges and possibilities. Curiosity can be nurtured by listening, exploring and reading. Consider the following for a minute: whereas the average person typically reads 2-3 books a year, the average CEO reads 4-5 books a month. Bill Gates is a well-known bibliophile and even has a website all about the books he is reading. His ability to learn and to translate that learning into rapid action has been a source of distinct competitive advantage for him.

Decisiveness: Successful CEOs have an innate ability to make decisions with speed and conviction. They may not make great decisions all of the time but they are good at being decisive and using to build momentum and making sure things move forward. Good CEOs realise that making a wrong decision is far better than making no decision at all.

Emotional Intelligence: Good CEOs know how to use empathy to understand their staff and customers better. It means that you become someone that others want to emulate and are perceived as being someone who cares about other people. High EQ leads to the ability to address issues more quickly, accurately and sensitively whilst remaining flexible and humble enough to course correct if required.

Passion: Successful CEOs are passionate about the work that they do and they excel in using that passion to appear authentic when talking about the organisation’s mission, vision and objectives. It explains why successful CEOs have a huge work ethic, drive and commitment.

I hope you have enjoyed this first notebook and found it useful. In my next notebook, I consider some key questions to ask when interviewing for a CEO. The final notebook in this series features what I think are the top 5 tasks a good CEO anywhere must accomplish.

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