Can you be a Successful CEO and Still be Nice?
I recently had lunch with a serial successful CEO (more than 1 successful company he led to significantly increased shareholder value). We talked about the requirements for successful CEOs. I was curious, and I wanted to hear his point of view. After all, successful people know how to identify other successful people and what it takes to make it. I wanted to know what was essential for him. The CEO role is a lonely job, and he felt he needed to be comfortable with who he is, his decisions, the board communications, and the results he was getting due to his leadership capacity. A few concepts surfaced: authenticity, generosity, level-headed behavior, developing and mentoring talent, focus, open communication, and highly developed emotional intelligence. It is essential to understand that kindness is not synonymous with weakness and can be considered a competitive advantage. Let’s explore this concept further.
This CEO suggested that strength in these critical attributes helps him perform at his highest level and build trust and credibility with his team at every level. He suggested that, at times, being kind means being firm and keeping the team on track. It does not mean to acquiesce or defer not to offend someone because they think differently. This CEO believes that it is nicer to be direct, to keep everyone on track, and to focus on suitable activities to drive the right results.
The CEO role is complex and requires many skills and diverse activities: raising money (public and private markets), managing the Board communications and feedback, setting strategic direction for the company, communicating goals to the team, managing the people to the goals, and set the tone for how work is accomplished. Every CEO is measured by the results they achieve and how they manage their relationships at all levels.
There is some misperception that being an effective leader is to be complex, abrasive, demanding, or curt. However, the most influential CEOs are considerate, transparent, and firm. The more consistent and
emotionally even the CEO is with communications, the more trust one builds, the more is accomplished with their teams.
You probably think this sounds like a lot of soft skills, right? It is; being true to yourself is also essential. Authenticity builds trust quickly at all levels. It is about possessing emotional intelligence and honing this skill over time, leading small teams, learning what does and does not work, and applying that learning to each assignment.
When assessing CEOs for clients, I want to know how they approach leading a team – both with an inherited team and one they choose. I want to know their capacity for mentoring and leading. Their tolerance for development and how they make hiring/ firing decisions. What are their preferences for building and leading teams and working with the board (communication style, setting strategy, etc.)? Understanding their approach is vital to the selection committee on the board of directors because hiring the RIGHT CEO is the board’s most crucial job. The Right CEO makes all the rest of the work of being on a board much more effortless. It is also critical to the success of the organization.
When we help clients find the right CEO, we dig as much into understanding the candidate’s soft skills and abilities as we do the technical – leadership is an art as much as it is a science, and getting the right fit is critical for our client’s success.
We have over 20 years of working with top-performing companies in life sciences to get them the best
leaders. Feel free to give us a call so we can learn more about you and your business and how we work with clients to ensure their success by hiring the right talent.