The 4 Traits of Highly Effective CEOs

I’ve often wondered how I became CEO.

A rambling brain dump inspired by reading the article “What Sets Successful CEOs Apart” from Harvard Business Review that clumsily tries(?) to generalise a secret formula.

It was never a goal of mine — to be CEO. I relentlessly wanted to deliver the best value, for decades. That required a team effort.

It’s a funny story. “Hey we need a CEO so we can join these CEO workshops. You guys want to make Adam the CEO? Ok Adam. You’re the CEO.” That’s all it took.

That can be read one of 2 ways.

Considering the article I’m citing here, it’s eerily not a coincidence.

“Consider that 100% of low-performing CEOs in our sample scored high on integrity, and 97% scored high on work ethic.”

This statement is based on traditional measures of integrity and work ethic. It’s Saturday, I’m on vacation. I’m working. Sort of. On my phone. (No, not an iPhone you iSheep ;)

Speed and conviction:

Within a day or 2.. incorporated.. site setup.. bootstrapping contracts in place.. world-class advisory board, blog, content, social media presence, some already in place.

Need to change core offering. Demand seen in other area of what I could bring. Pivot. Overnight.

Need to scale up. Different strategy. Pivoted. Again, only days. Decision made, executed. Money flowing in.

Need to leverage IP. PIVOT AGAIN. PaaS strategy. ICO. Decision made. Executing. It will take days again — not weeks or months.

Invested stakeholders:

I was lucky enough to grow the stakeholders from the ground up. In fact the vision was so strong, they came to me. One even quit their job and waited for months until I had drummed up enough business.

Invest in them. I paid out of pocket to give work to keep a core team. They worked on open source projects. This built community around our vision.

Scale the leadership. Make the stakeholders part of the solution. Involved, feeling, rewarded.

No interviews. Or very few. We just have stakeholders with different contributions. Why ICOs are interesting.

Everyone is on board. Everyone knows why everything is done. Everyone knows how it’s being done. Everyone knows when it will be done.

Partnerships. Our partners share our revenue as we theirs. Anyone can be a sales person. We have a contract at the ready — always.

The community is a stakeholder. The public is invested in our success. They get it. They want us to succeed. They provide us with talent that we could not otherwise find. We don’t need to look for people.


The article is trying to be nice and call it “adaptability”. But yeah. Mistakes. A ton. Some nearly killing good contracts. Some maybe even potentially destroying the company if looked at from the outside.

But this is not our first rodeo. Perfection is not something we are distracted by — well I am when it comes to Git workflows, but that’s another story. These truly are opportunities. Rips in the fabric of stability that facilitate important pivots. Like controlled explosions.

3 major pivots in the first year and a half. Bigger and more successful after each one.


With each month that passes, we offer a more predictable product, with less and less risk.

It’s possible because of the team. At all levels. No bottlenecks. Flat org. Trust.

Our customers can’t find a more stable maintainable platform for their most important services.

Quality and Speed of execution for us and our customers.


Less than 2 years. Over 20 people. Bootstrapped. Never needed investors.

Whatever makes you valuable, scale it. CEO is just a title.