In my line of work I see all kinds of CEO’s. Young and old, male and female, decision makers and decision avoiders, leaders and shrinking violets. The bottom line is that the personalities, skills, abilities and success factors vary by CEO just like they vary in their shapes and sizes.
My experience has shown me that you can group CEOs into four basic categories. Call it “profiling” if you like, but as I look at the businesses that are truly successful and those that need help (and more importantly, those who will accept it) the differences in CEOs becomes clear.
CEO #1 The True Leader – this CEO gets it. He or she has a clear vision for where they want the company to grow. They have communicated it effectively. They set the expectations, they measure the results, and they hold their people accountable. They demonstrate compassion for their people and have built a culture of earned trust. This CEO is open, honest and transparent. They know they will gain more by sharing information than by withholding it. Their employees, or in these cases, “Associates” or “Team Members”, work diligently toward the goals of the company. There is an uncompromising, mutual respect being exhibited. Their goals and plans are pursued with passion, and the results are strong and consistent. Unfortunately, this is a rare breed. I have only met a handful of these CEOs.
CEO#2 The Know-It-All – this CEO thinks he/she gets it. This group is too smart for its own good. These are the CEOs who pride themselves on having never asked anyone for help, guidance or assistance. They tend to be ego-driven, arrogant, controlling and intimidating. They “rule” with the iron fist and make “employees” or subordinates nervous. They may or may not be quick to solve problems with staff. Some will fire with the swiftness of a hit squad in the dark of night with or without justification, while others can’t confront issues and only demonstrate chest-beating and bluster, leaving the problem “employee” in place to continue to contaminate the work environment. There are some who really are more fear-driven and put on the “tough guy/gal” mask. They fear making a bad choice and in most cases are lacking the leadership skills needed to truly run or change the business. They surround themselves with weak, low-horsepower leadership teams in an effort to make themselves appear “smarter”. Unfortunately, this is a common breed. There are tons of these CEOs out there. Many actually run, reasonably successful (based on revenue and/or profit measures) organizations in spite of their behavior, style and methods. But think how successful they could really be with goals, a plan and a defined process for getting things done.
CEO#3 The Heart Attack – this CEO has had one. Hopefully just in the figurative sense. They have been running the business and they are seeing things get worse and worse. They don’t work to change the behaviors, actions or direction -- they just fret as the business begins to tailspin. Then, some sort of major catastrophe hits, loss of a major client or two, the bank calls in the note or the line of credit is gone and they determine the need to make a change. This is much like the individual who ignored all the warning signs of an impending heart attack: high blood pressure, overweight, high cholesterol. They’re sure the bathroom scale is wrong. The heart attack is a big “surprise” but now they are going to straighten out their lives. Under a doctor’s supervision they begin to manage their diet, start working out and change the behaviors that led to the heart attack. There are lots of lessons learned (by the CEO and the company) if they survive the heart attack. They realize that the ways they have “led” the business were ineffective and that they need to get help from the outside to get them back on course for survival and fitness. By the way, no surprise here: CEO#3 almost always started out as a CEO#2 Know-It-All.
CEO#4 The Humble Leader – another fairly rare breed. He or she is actually a good leader. They’ve built a successful business and possess many of the same traits and behaviors as the “true leader”. They have not honed their skills to the degree of CEO#1, but they aspire for more. They are not satisfied with the status quo and are looking for every advantage to build a better team, to grow their business, to deliver higher, bigger and better. They look to outside resources and advisors to aid them in their journey toward their vision. They work to develop better and more effective processes and better alignment across the company. They are looking for help to manage the challenges of growth and all the thrills and challenges that come with it. They are hungry and open to learning. They are on the journey to become a CEO#1 True Leader.
So, which CEO type are you? If you can’t see it yourself, look for the "CEO Effectiveness Exam" in next month’s article. The numbers rarely lie.