I have recently enjoyed reading the editorials and comments in various publications concerning the corporate office of CEO and the women who may or may not fill the office. Comments from Jack Welch and his wife over the last few months along with follow-up remarks and conversations from various women's groups have sparked some controversy. I have the privilege of travelling across the country meeting many CEO's, and I would like to share what I believe are 5 traits of a good CEO.
Over the last 10 years I have had the opportunity to consult for CEO's, shape and mold them and provide key insights that help them to achieve greater success personally and professionally. The best CEO's have some qualities that are unique to the leadership roles that the job requires.
1. They must understand the business they are in. So many of today's CEO's get lost in the product and service and forget the basics of their industry. The products and services you make provide something that benefits the public or government in a broader way. Your role as a leader is to understand what your business is really about. For instance, car companies are not just about cars, but rather they are about transportation. You build a business that provides that service and you will be able to change with the times and grow as technology redirects the needs and wants of the buyers. If you fail to do that, you will be outdated and find yourself in the same business as the BUGGY and carriage makers of the 18th century. They went out of business because they did not adapt and change.
2. The CEO must develop and put into motion a strategic vision for the company they lead. They must understand that their business is about building a legacy. This is not a personal legacy, but a corporate legacy, one that provides jobs, futures and benefits for their employees and the public. Sometimes this means they make tough choices as the industry changes, but they never lose sight of the end goal and their mandate to be a part of a bigger future. Short sighted choices may bring immediate rewards, but in the long haul, the corporate legacy and all the work put into creating it will be destroyed or fade out of existence. You must look beyond tomorrow!
3. You must be able to communicate. I have not met a great CEO who could not communicate. This position requires visual, written and vocal communications skills that motivate their staff, delegate responsibility, and share with their customers all of the positive aspects of their products and services. The first standard to good communication is INTEGRITY. People must know that your word is true. Many CEO's today are nothing more than spin doctors who create hype for a year, and then they are gone. Their pockets are filled but the masses and employees are the losers. Integrity is the key to effective communication and leadership and without it, all will be lost. You must be able to network and send the correct message through all modes of media, from print to audio and film as well as social networks. Communication skills are a must.
4. You must be humble, yet confident, that you can get the job done. Remember that the job is never what defines you. Your character is what determines who you are! YOUR JOB TITLE only determines what you do. You must be a giver, not a taker. Always preparing and mentoring someone to take your job, to create a plan of succession. J. Paul Getty says if you want to be a billionaire, you should make everyone around you a millionaire. This simply means that you need to build others up and establish a corporate structure that develops creativity rather than one that suppresses it. You must always create something of value, expect excellence, never accept GOOD ENOUGH and be an example to everyone who works under you. Your success is not just about you, but it is about every employee and every customer. Corporate arrogance is a killer. A CEO full of pride will not correct a bad policy nor can they simply say I was wrong. Humility and gratitude are a must.
5. Finally, the great CEO's work harder, they put in more time, they surround themselves by people with common and strong character traits, they stay educated and informed, and they get paid based on long and short term performance. They create real wealth for others more than just themselves. It has been so discouraging these last few years to see financial executives making millions while their shareholders and clients lost everything, or car executives being paid ungodly salaries while taxpayers bailed them out, or mortgage companies paying 7 and 8 digit salaries to executives who knew they were providing services that were incorrect and in many cases, criminal. It is time the CEO is paid based on performance. Let them create their worth based on the value of their stock over 3 - 7 years; not by salaries and hidden benefits.
I am not against wealth or creating it, and I think anyone who works hard should be able to make as much as they are worth. America was built upon a few common threads. The desire to make dreams come true, a commitment to moral values and integrity and the freedom to pursue any and every opportunity.
Now all of this being said: I do not see the difference between a great female CEO and a great male CEO; I just see the position. The job is not for everyone, it is not easily obtained, but for the person who has the skills, desire, character and work ethic to lead our conglomerates or small companies throughout this country, the common traits are the same.
You are the face of a business, be certain and look the part. It is vital to have a polished Professional and Personal Brand, while you also understand that your visual image is one of your greatest assets. People will see you, then they will hear you, and based on your words, reflections, character and values, they will follow you or deny you. So Jack Welch was right when he said - If you want to be a CEO you need to work harder, and when the opportunity to lead becomes available, you will be ready to seize the moment.
Pictured above: Meg Whitman, CEO Hewlett-Packard, Source: Wikipedia.com
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