As a member of the CEO Connection team, I have the opportunity to attend CEO Boot Camps with our members several times a year, the most recent event having occurred here in Chicago last week. The night before each Boot Camp we have a dinner event featuring a seasoned CEO sharing lessons they’ve learned in their role.
At this most recent dinner we had the CEO of a storied Chicago company offering his perspective on, “The five keys to being a successful CEO.” I found them insightful and candid and am honored to share them with you here:
1. You Have to Want to be CEO
While this may seem obvious, the reality is the job is not for everyone, and this particular CEO felt strongly that you cannot go into it for the title or the compensation. Instead, you have to be passionate about creating value for employees, customers and shareholders. As he remarked emotionally, “Every waking hour I am thinking about this company. When you get to that point, you feel the heartbeat of the company.”
2. Treat the First 90 Days Like a Blind Date
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The first 90 days in any job are crucial; even more so in a CEO role with all eyes of the Board of Directors, employees and “the street” upon you. There is an element of risk involved when “putting yourself out there” for intense scrutiny. This gentleman advocated meeting one-on-one with every member of the Board and requesting a clear indication of their expectations of you in the role. Discerning whether or not you hear the same thing from each of them will give you a feel for how aligned or divided they are as a Board.
Acknowledging the degree to which they are truly aligned will better prepare you to work with them. And recognizing you have a very short time to make a stellar impression with the Board, your employees, and the street is your impetus for immediate action.
3. Own the Vision…Passionately
Not only do you have to own it passionately, you have to be able to clearly communicate it to every stakeholder. As the CEO stated candidly, “People will know if you believe in it. You cannot waver.” And if part of your vision includes changing the culture, appreciate that it will take you at least five years to do so.
4. Reflect the Light and Absorb the Heat
Great CEOs accept that they have full accountability for everything that happens in their company. This gentleman believes it is his role to ensure his employees get credit for “everything good that happens,” and that it falls on his shoulders to take the heat when someone makes a poor decision. “They have to know I have their back.”
5. Treat Your Board as Your Partner, Not Your Friend or Enemy
“I don’t care if they like me, but I do care if they respect me,” stated the CEO. “It’s far more important to be respected than it is to be liked. You cannot go through life as a leader worrying about if people like you or not.”
Remember that you represent the management team to the Board, so when meeting with the Board you are serving both groups. “Regardless of the conversation during Board meetings, he emphasized, “it’s vitally important that when we leave the room we’re united.”
As a leader, do these five advisements resonate with you?
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* CEO Connection is the only membership organization in the world focused exclusively on mid market CEOs. The organization connects thousands of mid-market CEOs and rising CEOs with each other and to people, information and resources which will help them succeed. The average size of the companies they run is $1.8 billion in annual revenue and 7,600 employees. It is all about CEOs helping CEOs.