If you aspire to be a CEO one day but you don’t know whether you have the traits that decision makers look for, you might want to check yourself against this simple checklist.
It is certainly not definitive nor exhaustive, it simply comprises my own observations and experiences from interacting with CEO’s from many different organisations and sectors.
Most people will have some elements of these desired traits but if you aspire to be a CEO you will need to actively develop and perfect them to become noticed.
“Live the dream and have the vision and purpose that attracts people to go on the adventure with you”
This trait is a broad one which encompasses understanding the big picture. It starts with knowing yourself and your own purpose and values and then finding and aligning yourself with organisations that reflect your values. This allows you to think and act authentically which helps develop trust with your colleagues.
As a CEO you will have a significant impact on the culture in your organisation because you set the tone with your actions. If you don’t believe in and don’t live the purpose, vision and values of the organisation then you will find it difficult to align your actions with them. This in turn leads to a less united and less positive culture.
Learning who you are, what you stand for and why, is an important first step in developing develop this all-encompassing big picture purpose trait.
Secondly, ensure that the team you manage or lead has a clear purpose, vision and values which are understood and practiced by the team. This becomes noticed by others.
I subscribe to Peter Drucker’s famous quote
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”
but having a good strategy is still critically important to achieve your purpose and vision. As a CEO you need to possess the bandwidth to understand what your organisation’s business model needs to be in order to achieve the vision. In terms of strategy, learn to stay abreast of what is happening in your industry, with new trends and developments, and analyse what they could mean for the future of your organisation. Look at your own and other industries for clues about what the future holds. The more you can broaden your exposure to trends and potential changes that affect your industry or the economy overall, the more you will expand your understanding of the big picture.
This will help you to see beyond the current reality of the operational detail and into the future and how the organisation needs to change and grow to stay relevant and competitive. If you can think and communicate in this way you become noticed.
“Build trust with your people so they want to follow you to achieve your vision”
This second broad trait encompasses the ability to engage and inspire the people in your team. One valuable piece of advice I gained from a boss early in my career was “treat people how you like to be treated”. This seems obvious but so many CEO’s get this wrong by consciously or unconsciously putting themselves on a pedestal.
A CEO has a responsibility for the wellbeing of the organisation and the people in it, if you treat the people in your team with dignity and respect they will start to feel comfortable and respect you back. If you do what you say you are going to do and are genuinely interested in their situations and motivations you begin to build their trust.
Similarly if you act and behave both consistently and confidently you will build trust and they are much more likely to follow you in pursuit of the organisation’s purpose and vision. These are apparently simple building blocks but you need a high degree of natural emotional intelligence to assemble them.
Practise with your team members individually and collectively as a team. Be interested in them and learn to listen and be empathetic. If you have a naturally directive style, try and soften it with some humour or personality so that your human side shines through. You still need to direct them towards required outcomes but ideally with a calm and patient approach.
If you can develop this skill with people it will set you apart and accelerate your progress towards being a CEO.
“Build your mental strength to manage the constant pressure of always being in the spotlight”
Being a CEO is physically and mentally demanding because the pace is relentless, the emotional rewards limited and the glare of the spotlight intense. You have to portray yourself as confident, calm and in control, even if inside you’re feeling none of those things.
Mental Toughness is a mindset trait that helps you to stay on track. The reason I’m a huge advocate is that for leaders it comprises four essential traits within its MTQ-Plus 4C’s framework. They are as follows:
Controlled and Calm
If you are high on Control you will possess a strong sense of purpose and self-efficacy that feeds a resolute self-belief in your ability to control your outcomes to your advantage. This will most likely ensure that you stay calm under pressure and respond rather than react to stressful situations.
Committed and focused on achieving outcomes
If you are high on Commitment you set yourself goals and targets and will do whatever it takes to achieve these desired outcomes. You make it happen consistently and this trait for being reliable is key for a CEO because it builds trust with all stakeholders, including employees. Conversely being unreliable erodes trust pretty quickly too.
Risk orientated and adaptable to change
CEO’s have to make decisions all the time and in doing so they have to take risks. This ability to take calculated risks and being able to cope with the internal and external fallout when things go wrong is critical. Similarly, being comfortable with the concept of constant change and having the open mindset to be adaptable to new situations complements this risk orientation. Both attributes are important for CEO’s to develop where change is constant.
Confident in your own abilities including your ability to influence others
Occasionally vulnerability will be important in your personal style but for the most part showing a confident and consistent demeanor will be preferable. If you don’t naturally possess this confidence trait, it is important to build it over time so that when you are appointed a CEO you have the self-belief that you deserve to be appointed and can lead responsibly and successfully.
This aspiring CEO checklist has 3 desired attributes, Purpose, People and Mental Toughness, each with a few sub-traits. If you can build and thereby demonstrate your competence in these areas you will be well on your way to becoming a CEO.
One question may be ‘well that’s just an arbitrary checklist – how do I develop the these skills and attributes and perhaps others that I deem important’.
Well, there’s no one development source but here are some ways you can build and develop these attributes:
- Responsibility for your development rests with you and your ability to practise your skills and attributes so that you improve over time.
- Be aware of and open to the continuous need to develop and stay relevant. This helps you not screen out what could be relevant influences.
- Write out a checklist of the most important attrbutes you wish to develop and keep them prominent.
- Learn a new skill or attribute every year or develop an existing one to a much higher level of expertise, possibly through a short course at University or Online.
- Seek out a mentor or two that will be able to help you with your devlopment.
- Read biographies of CEO’s.
- Subscribe to online magazines like Inc. Forbes, Fast Company, Thrive Global to read articles that can help you with new techniques or strategies.
- Use performance appraisals and conversations with your manager and manager’s manager to understand their perception of your strengths and development points, and what you need to develop.
For more on mental toughness develop programs, developing CEO attributes or coaching programs contact us.