What great CEOs do differently

I find this article from Harvard Business Review (May-June 2017 edition) interesting, especially as I am about to embark into a new challenging yet exciting journey. If you are wondering, not becoming a CEO (just yet!), but I think in anything that you do, it’s good to act and think like a CEO, so that you are well-equipped when the opportunity arises.

So the article highlighted 4 behaviors that set successful CEOs apart, as follows:

  1. Deciding with speed and conviction – “Good CEOs realize that a wrong decision may be better than no decision at all”
  2. Engaging for impact – “Listen and solicit views but do not default to consensus-driven decision making. While it is good, it is too slow and sometimes you end up with lowest common denominator”
  3. Adapting proactively – “CEOs are constantly faced with situations where a playbook simply doesn’t exist” 
  4. Delivering reliably – “Board typically opted for a ‘safer’ candidate who was known for delivery steady, predictable results year after year, than a candidate who performed significantly one year with many other misses in the past”

I 100% agree with 1 to 3 behaviors, but I’m not too sure about number 4. I think it is an important behavior, but I’m not sure if you are considered a better performing CEO than a CEO who exceeds target after how many years of missing it. I think it depends on the business you are in and understand the underlying reasons of not achieving the target. Imagine a start up, you can’t possibly penalize them just because their business have in the red for a few years – it’s just the nature of a start up where you will not make money in the first few years. Also, some CEOs are hired to turnaround a troubled business. But having said that, the CEOs were picked because they have proved themselves worthy in the prior years. So yeah, I think this is a grey area.

I would probably add one more important trait:

Willing to fail

However, I think it is more relevant for startups and incumbents which are in the process of innovating and less relevant for stable public listed companies. Nevertheless, I think it is good to shape that “willing to fail” mindset among the employees. They will dare to challenge and give great ideas and make significant changes.

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