What Makes A Great CEO?

Following our big SEVEN LEADERSHIP VIRTUES, I did a rough count over the weekend and estimated that I have worked with upwards of 200 CEOs over the past 22 years. Almost all of them spoke, at one time or another, about what made a great CEO – sometimes expressing this modestly (“How can I be more effective?”) while others in a much more grandiose way (“I want to be great.”) And so, I have pulled together the characteristics I have observed in the very best CEOs. Nobody has all of them, but the truly exceptional CEOs tend to have many.

Characteristics Of A Great CEO

  • Thrive in turbulent times and have a very high tolerance of ambiguity; managing it with philosophical contemplation, scientific trial and error, and/or entrepreneurial aplomb.
  • Are attracted to the unknown and enjoy exploring how and why things work.
  • Are fascinated by what they do; yet endlessly curious; prepared to follow just to see where it goes.
  • Think it is okay to be uncertain; see it as a fact of life that they have to navigate and thrive in; are comfortable with discomfort.
  • Are ‘systems thinkers’, ready to read the play in any situation and connect seemingly unrelated issues.
  • Take a long-term view and accept that uncertainty will ebb and flow, in cycles.
  • Take time to read, think, reflect and talk to others to detect emerging ideas and trends.
  • Are confident making decisions with incomplete information that may move their organisation into uncharted territory.
  • Are at ease working without a safety net.
  • Have large doses of business acumen.
  • Are fluid ‘broad scanning thinkers’, who understand how a business operates and constantly think about how it will play out in the future.
  • Put energy into finding solutions to problems rather than wallowing in the problem.
  • Truly love what they do and want other to feel likewise.
  • Can take complicated ideas and help people to understand where the organisation is going.
  • Can identify and attack the critical few actions that need to be done and shift to a different set of actions quickly.
  • Provide absolutely clarity of direction and roles.
  • Quickly build a high performing and cohesive leadership team.
  • Great CEOs have the big seven leadership virtues is spades; kindness, humility, curiosity, authenticity, courage, determination and discipline.