Every CEO strives to be a strong leader and push their company forward, but when it comes to determining what the mindsets and characteristics of a successful CEO are, opinions vary. It’s hard to be all things all the time and many CEOs struggle to know where to spend their time, how to allocate resources, and what’s really going to drive shareholder value. They’re left feeling frustrated, worried, and fearful that they might make a wrong decision. Every CEO deserves to have a business with a strong financial future.
To be a successful CEO, it appears that’s no roadmap, no playbook, no Wizard of OZ pulling levers behind a green curtain. It takes an exceptional set of mindsets that precede any skill set a CEO may possess. A CEO doesn’t need to excel in all the mindsets; they can excel in a few. But, they do need to have some level of proficiency in all of them according to Dewar, Keller, and Malhotra in their book, “CEO Excellence”.
The first mindset is around setting company direction and being bold. A CEO has to possess a mindset around the concept of “fortune favors the brave”. This boldness impacts the CEO’s vision, their strategy practice, and how they allocate resources (people, capital, and time).
A CEO will often be called in to “change the game” when the board or the shareholders are looking to make changes. They will task that CEO with setting a new vision. An example of that is mentioned briefly in Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great”. Collins suggested that what takes to take a company from good to great is focusing on 3 things:
1) What are you passionate about?
2) What are you best in the world at?
3) What drives your economic engine?
The intersection of those 3 things is your company’s greatness. A CEO may create a vision around that.
As a CEO works with management to implement a strategy around that vision, a bold CEO needs to be comfortable with making big moves early and often. If I take you back to 1961, President Kennedy created a vision in his State of the Union “to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny.” He wanted to make a series of big, bold moves to fund putting a man on the moon, increase unmanned space exploration, develop a nuclear rocket, and advance satellite technology. He was a visionary.
There’s a particular CEO that I’ve worked with for over 10 years now. This CEO has a growth mindset and can cast a vision. He’s a lifelong learner and he’s built a culture where lifelong learning, working hard, and having fun are embraced. He believes that if you have the right people (people who embrace your core values and core focus) and they’re in the right seats, there’s no limit to what can be accomplished. He lives out the mindset that fortune favors the brave. In that bold direction-setting mindset, his company has achieved a compounded annual growth rate of 37.5% each year for the past 5 years (which includes Covid years). This year, the company is growing at a rate of over 50%.
Finally, a bold mindset coupled with big moves, requires a practice of resource allocation. Many CEOs who have been inside a company for a long time could fall into the trap of doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Sometimes it takes an outsider’s point of view. There are countless stories of companies firing CEOs and the new CEO had to come in and allocate resources differently. Companies like Intel and GM were facing significant declines in business and had to allocate differently either along product lines or geography to turn the business around.
Whether you run a closely-held business or a publicly traded company, if you’re the CEO, ask yourself these questions. Are you:
1) Pursuing a direction that fills an unmet need?
2) Using your unique capabilities?
3) Driven by a noble purpose?
4) Can it be monetized?
Involve a group of people in shaping your bold vision, take action on things that are big needle movers for your business, and redirect time, energy, talent, and money toward these actions.