We all have an idea in our heads of what a head of a successful company looks like. Confident, Intelligent, maybe a bit intimidating. Someone who just knows: what to do, when to do it, and how to get it done.
This outlook turns “the CEO” into someone we can never be. Because they are the “expert” in the industry, they are always a step ahead of us and someone for us to look up to, not someone to aspire to be. Still today, it’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I am a “CEO.” A CEO isn’t a laid-back Dad like me. I don’t wear a suit NEARLY often enough to be a CEO. But then I stop and acknowledge that, despite those ideas, I am a CEO, and maybe it’s my idea of a “CEO” that needs to change, not my clothing habits.
Because “having it all together” is not what actually makes a good leader. In my experience, the businesses that make it are run by a certain kind of person, but it’s not the person I traditionally imagine running companies. Here are the three things that my favorite CEO clients have in common, and three traits I have learned actually signify a CEO who is going to be successful.
1. They are good listeners– Despite the stereotype, good CEO’s are not typically people who walk in and demand attention as they list off unrealistic demands. On the contrary, CEO’s are good active listeners, they are observant, they are the people sitting in the back of the room with a clipboard taking in everything being said. CEO’s have a lot of people they need to understand: from their customers, to their employees, to their partners and investors. Business owners who succeed are the ones who know this and who take the time to listen to what the people around them are saying: What do their customers want from their product? What do their employees value about their job? If you want to be a good leader, these are questions you can most easily answer just by listening.
2. They are not overly confident- CEO’s have a lot of responsibility and make a lot of decisions. But that doesn’t mean that they are always confident in making those decisions or that the responsibliity of the job doesn’t make them anxious. In my experience, good leaders allow themselves to be a little insecure: they feel the weight of the responsibility on their shoulders, and are not overly-confident when it comes to making decisions. What they do instead is ask for help, consult their trusted network, and do a LOT of research. Not being overly confident allows you to do your homework and engage your team in order to make the best decision you can. Once that’s done, you have the courage to make the decision you think is best and then ride it out.
3. They don’t take themselves too seriously- Good leaders need to be funny people! With all the stress, the people that one needs to interact with and manage, and the things that can (and will) go wrong, a CEO without a sense of humor is like a trampoline without any bounce. I’ve noticed that some of the people I admire most are those that recognize that they’re not perfect, that they will make mistakes, and that this is all part of a crazy ride. CEO’s that don’t take themselves too seriously tend to be more successful because they embrace the ups and downs and don’t get stuck in their ways. And this is a necessity for anyone trying to keep their company evolving and relevant.
If you’re moving into a leadership position or looking to turn your big idea into a business, don’t be intimidated into trying to fit the persona of a “CEO.” Just be yourself, be human, and work your butt off. Because that’s really what being a CEO is all about.