Over the years, I have interacted with the CEOs of many startups — Some who were excellent and others not so much. I have learned that there are 7 things that really good CEOs do:
1. Be likable
All good CEOs that I have met over the years are all very likable. They are the kind of people you want to be friends with. I know this might sound a bit strange, but I have found out that one of the most important features of a good CEO is his or her ability to leave a great impression on people, being it clients, investors, partners.
2. Sell, Sell, Sell
CEOs have a lot on their plate. When companies are more mature, they normally have a VP Sales or a CRO and a full sales team on board to market and sell the company’s products. Still, a good CEO will never stop selling. Actually, a good CEO is always one of the best sales reps of the company. Just think about it — A CEO always sells the vision of the company to clients, investors, partners, existing and new employees, and of course, the general public.
3. Listen (not only talk)
Salespeople tend to be preoccupied with talking, which is not good enough for CEOs. Especially CEOs need to listen, they need to listen to their employees, listen to their clients and their partners to name just a few. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Not so much! As we all know, no matter how smart we are, the ability to be open to other ideas, to be coachable and to realize that wisdom can come from other people, is super important.
4. Work hard. Lead by example
When I was a young, I watched my father wake up at dawn and leave early to start a hard day of work. Even with today’s technology, there is no substitution for hard work. All good CEOs I know work very hard. They lead by example. Startup teams are ready to work hard too, but if their leader does not lead by example, this will simply not happen. No need to go overboard with working hard; don’t forget that eating and sleeping once a while is also important ;)! Still, keeping the perfect life balance is not always achievable for a good CEO. I wish things would be easier, but the harsh reality is that running a startup is very hard work.
5. Communicate challenges, not just achievements
It’s fun and easy to discuss achievements, but communicating challenges and failures is much more difficult although that’s so important. People around any CEO (including management, employees and yes, even investors) are smart enough to know that challenges and failures are an integrated part of any company, including the best ones. There is everything to gain by openly discussing those. Just keeping quiet about those things does a CEO a huge disservice, since employees will think that their CEO either does not understand the issues or that he or she does not trust them enough to share, which is never a good thing. The best CEOs I know start every board meeting with “stuff we failed to do during the last quarter”. That might be atypical, but how I see it, it’s the best way to start a productive board meeting.
6. Ask for help
When we think about leaders, we tend to think of the old western cowboy who was silent and confident, never expressing weaknesses and certainly never asking for help. In practice, it’s quite the opposite — Great CEOs are very good in relying on others and asking for help and receiving assistance. Smart CEOs always use people around them, who are willing to help if asked the right way.
7. Humans first
The typical image of a successful business person is a cold-hearted individual, with zero emotional intelligence and no moral standards. At least for startups, this is so wrong! All good CEOs I know are great human beings. Yes, they are very focused on the success of their companies, but they are sensitive to others at the same time.
That’s my list. Do you think I have missed anything? Did I get something wrong? Please let me know!
P.S. for the Hebrew version: https://bit.ly/2tCCC0a