Those at the top of an organisation shape its fortunes, its culture and its future. CEOs must be inspirational, adaptable and decisive, making the decisions that drive the company forward. While your own personal leadership style will definitely influence the type of CEO you are, effective CEOs share certain traits and abilities.
In recent years, the role of CEOs has changed dramatically, not least of all with remote working. So what does it take to become a successful CEO in 2023?
What is a chief executive officer (CEO)?
Of course, organisations vary widely in their structures, but the CEO of a company is usually the highest-ranking executive. They are sometimes called a managing director or president. Often, the managing director of a company will be the second in command.
Whatever the term used, the person in the CEO position is chosen by the board of directors and the wider group of shareholders. Sometimes, they’ll chair the board of directors, who the CEO is accountable to. They’re responsible for channelling communications between the board and the wider company.
They manage the overall operations and resources of an organisation, making the most vital decisions and endeavouring to drive organisational growth and efficiency.
Most employees will see the CEO as the face of the company and look to them for direction. CEOs often act as the public face of the company as well.
What does a typical CEO look like?
A CEO will be someone who conveys authority and real competence. While the CEOs of the past might have been disconnected from regular employees, many now pride themselves on being approachable and open.
Modern CEOs listen to viewpoints and value colleagues’ insights. They’ll pair this input with their own judgement to act decisively in the best interests of the organisation.
To find the right blend of skills, experience and knowledge, organisations are becoming increasingly open-minded about where their CEOs come from, with all kinds of backgrounds and career paths now represented. Many businesses use psychometric testing to find the right person for the job.
What skills do you need to be a CEO?
Sitting at the head of an organisation, CEOs need to set a clear, relatable vision, which gives employees a real sense of purpose.
It goes without saying that CEOs have to see the whole picture and devise effective strategies to power the organisation forward – towards the realisation of their vision.
Ultimately, the buck stops with the CEO. They will, of course, have many people advising them, but it’s their job to take everything into account and make the decisions that matter. They must also be adept at explaining why they’ve made certain decisions – to both the board and their employees.
Communication skills are vital for CEOs, particularly with the advent of remote working, when employees might feel more distant from the company – or even forgotten about. Well-developed interpersonal skills will allow CEOs to communicate better and make them more approachable.
Leaders at all levels must be able to motivate the people they manage, as well as give them direction and useful feedback. Delegation is another integral management skill: knowing when and what to delegate (and to who) will help the smooth running of the organisation.
What personality traits do CEOs have?
It’s crucial that CEOs lead with confidence, showing complete belief in their ideas and decisions. This is particularly vital when adverse conditions hit: employees need to know that their leader has a plan and faith in their organisation.
Gone are the days of autocratic business leaders who demanded results and didn’t listen to their employees. In 2023, CEOs must exhibit compassion for regular employees and their troubles. Otherwise, they might be seen as out of touch and risk damaging employee morale.
As societies and workplaces have become less hierarchical, the role of the CEO has changed dramatically. CEOs can no longer be distant and indifferent to issues on the shop floor. Transparency is now more important than ever, with employees expecting their leaders to be accountable and communicative.
What experience do I need to be a CEO?
One of the absolute prerequisites for CEOs is leadership experience. You must know how to delegate effectively and inspire better performance in people. It’s vital that you can deal with the pressure of leading teams and projects, assuming ultimate responsibility for their success.
For many CEOs, the progression to the top job comes after excelling in a chief operating officer (COO), chief financial officer (CFO) or president role. Positions like these will give you experience in making (and justifying) significant decisions, optimising performance and working with directors. They’ll also expose you to the pressures of life at the top of the ladder. Succession management planning can help to ease the transition for businesses.
Sometimes, CEOs move from sector to sector, relying upon their leadership and strategic skills to help them make the transition to a new industry. If you have experience within the industry, however, that will always be a huge plus. If you already possess real insight into the everyday issues your employees face, that will prove enormously beneficial. Not only will you be able to make more informed decisions, but people in the organisation will know that you understand their roles and the overall business.
How long does it take to be a CEO?
If you aspire to become a CEO, you should know that the route to the top is rarely straightforward. Even if you make it to the role of COO or president, you can still wait years for the right opening.
Typical steps to becoming a CEO
Very few people set out on their careers intending to become a CEO. People reach the position through a wide variety of routes. However, there are some common steps that most CEOs take along the way, giving them the mix of knowledge, skills and practical experience required to become a truly effective CEO.
Whilst this isn’t guaranteed, a CEO will generally be expected to hold a bachelor’s degree. Of course, successful, self-made entrepreneurs sometimes buck this trend as different generations have different routes to becoming CEO.
If an undergraduate degree is the chosen path, many successful CEOs then went on to gain a postgraduate degree, usually related to business. MBAs are a particularly popular choice since they give you a well-rounded business education and prepare you to run an organisation.
Extensive work experience and exceptional performance
It’s highly unusual for people to go straight from academia to becoming a CEO. Experience at a lower level will always be beneficial, especially if you work within the sector where you’ll later take the role of CEO. This experience will allow you to see things from an employee’s perspective and build up practical expertise. What’s more, you’ll likely have held influential positions in which you’ve had the opportunity to demonstrate your exceptional performance, before gaining the title of CEO.
From change management to motivation, and strategic thinking to presenting data, CEOs use a wide variety of skills on a daily basis. CEOs need to be equally comfortable on the shop floor and the board room with outstanding interpersonal skills that demonstrate a high level of self-awareness. Being able to understand your own shortcomings will help you to recruit the right team in the future. Before you can take the step up to the boardroom, you’ll have to nurture these skills and demonstrate your proficiency in them.
How can agp help you to become a successful CEO in 2023?
With over 20 years of experience in finding the right executives for companies, we know what makes an effective leader. Through one-to-one executive coaching, we can guide you towards becoming a CEO.
We employ a highly personalised approach, tailoring the coaching to suit your specific needs. The first thing we do is listen and determine where you need the most support – and what your goals are.
Experienced career coaches will help you nurture your communication and motivational skills, so you can inspire colleagues at all levels and convey the rationale behind your decisions. The coaching process will greatly broaden your skill base, open you up to new behaviours and build upon your strengths.
We can help you take your performance up a notch, so you’re ready to become a truly successful CEO.