Ten Actions to Start Doing Today if You Want to Be a Successful CEO

Today, I’ve been reflecting on an HBR article (May-June 2017 edition) I read, What Sets Successful CEOs Apart (Elena Lytkina Botelho, Kim Rosenkoetter Powell, Stephen Kincaid, and Dina Wang).  Like many HBR articles, it shares interesting perspectives and it got my wheels turning.  According to the article, there are four areas where successful CEOs excel.

  1. Be decisive  (Those described as decisive were 12 times more likely to be the high-performing CEOs)
  2. Deliver reliably (CEO candidates who rated high on reliability were twice as likely to get the role and 15 times more likely to succeed in it)
  3. Engage for impact (CEOs who who excel in engaging for impact were 75% more successful in their roles)
  4. Adapt proactively (CEOs who adapt proactively are 6.7 times more likely to succeed)

To learn more about the research methods, please go to the original article where it is explains how performance was differentiated.

AGDvisors Insights:

Since according to a 2014 survey from Korn Ferry 87% of executives want to become CEOs, I wanted to boil this down to 10 actions to start doing today to be able to succesfully sit in the CEO office in the future.

Be decisive

According to the article, “high-performing CEOs do not necessarily stand out for making great decisions all the time; rather, they stand out for being more decisive.”… “They do so consistently – even amid ambiguity, with incomplete information, and in unfamiliar domains”.  Often we hear about the substantial costs of a bad decision, but what we rarely hear quantified is the cost of no decision at all, or the cost of a bottleneck due to a delayed decision. Knowing when to decide and when to wait, isn’t easy.  What has the greater cost, making the wrong decision or not making a decision and hold things up.  The first step is to decide if you need to decide.  Many executives I work with are brilliant, yet when it comes decision making, higher IQ may hinder your ability to decide.  Your ability and desire for more perfect answers can make taking action more difficult.  I call this smart person’s curse which can lead to “more perfect decisions” but more perfect decisions that are not timely are no longer perfect.

Deliver reliably

Deliver on your commitments, manage expectations so you can exceed them, be responsive. This should be a no brainer, but somehow be it a desire to please, a lack of engagement, or not understanding what it takes to get the job done, people often don’t deliver reliably.  On the other hand, I have consistently been impressed by how responsive those I deem to be great executives are.  In addition to doing what they say, and saying what they will do or have done, great leaders really do have great follow-though.

Engage for impact

As an executive, once you know where you are headed, you must get buy-in from your team and stakeholders on board to join you.  Executives who successfully get buy-in do so with with deliberate and consistent planning.  Identify your key stakeholders, understand their points of support and/or resistance, and work (one-on-one if you have) to ultimately gain their buy-in.  If done properly, this process often results in uncovering some resistance or conflict that, through dialogue, may lead to a better solution.  Not surprisingly, he article says, two-thirds of of the CEOs who excelled with “Engage for Impact” were also strong at conflict management.  If there is something that needs to be addressed, address it.  I always recommend to start with a common shared goal, keep your ears open (seek first to understand and then to be understood), and move forward from there – remember the adage two heads are better than one.  Enter the dialogue expecting it to better path forward.  While the dialogue does not always result in enhanced outcomes, executives who are best at engaging for impact “give everyone a voice but not a vote”.

Adapt proactively

If you haven’t heard the term VUCA yet, it’s time to get introduced.  The term VUCA originates from the military where it was introduced to describe the more Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world after the end of the Cold War.  More recently, it’s become a management tool to to describe the ever-changing, information laden, globally matrixed and unknown, business environment we operate in. It has been suggested that the antidote to VUCA is VUCA~ (Vision , Understanding, Courage, and Adaptability).  To adapt proactively, executives must broadly source information, surround themselves with diverse thoughts, and have a long term focus for their business. Broad exposure leads to a greater chance at adapting proactively as it enhances a executive’s ability to assimilate seemingly unrelated information and find relevance to their businesses.  The combination of casting wide and having a long-term focus allows CEOs to sense or create change as a competitive advantage.

Here are 10 things to start doing today be be CEO in the future:

  1. Start Deciding:  The first decision should be whether or not to decide at all.
  2. Avoid Smart Person’s Curse:  Perfect decisions rarely exist but analysis paralysis is common; practice making decisions, sharing your thoughts with a sounding board, getting feedback, and taking action.
  3. Value your Values:  Know and be mindful of your values.  Awareness of values helps you make consistent decisions, even in times of great pressure.
  4. Build your Personal Board of Directors:  Map out your trusted advisors and build a diverse Board that you can engage.
  5. Connect with your Personal Board of Directors:  Engage your Board regularly to celebrate wins, share information, push on another’s perspectives, get creative and problem solve.
  6. Air it Out:  Address conflict with an open mind and a common goal. No professional “junk drawers” (one day you will find something gross in there, or worse, the WSJ will!).
  7. Source Information Broadly:  Access information across diverse industries, geographies, and perspectives.  As the great Dr. says, The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
  8. Always Be in Ready Position:  Knees bent, shoulders squared, alert, and ready to change direction or continue charging on your current path.
  9. Be The Person Others Count On:  Consistently deliver on your commitments, and if you can’t reach out early for help (when done so early, asking for help is most often viewed positively as it reflects well on your foresight, dedication, and honesty).
  10. Act like a CEO:  Remember there is a spotlight on you. Anything that you do, don’t do, say or don’t’ say may be perceived as a message.

And of course, be you and be kind.