The Successful CEO

Successful CEOs are pioneers, visionaries and creators — people who change lives, communities and the world around them. This is true in the realm of finance, and every other industry.

When we think about the best CEOs, we often focus on the rememberable founders who transformed an industry or started an entirely new one. Steve Jobs, Sam Walton, Jack Ma, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, Jess Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson are just a few who almost always immediately come to mind.

Each took a different path to realizing their entrepreneurial dreams. Each had unique goals and motivations. And each shared some common traits. One author summarized these winning variables as: creativity, dedication, determination, flexibility, leadership, passion, self-confidence and “smarts.” The latter trait represents something beyond high IQ, and could include emotional intelligence, intuition, cleverness, courage and what is often referred to as “street smarts.”

Popular business management author Peter Drucker has defined the entrepreneur who brings about dramatic transformation in an industry as someone who seeks out changes in markets or society, meets the need he observes, and finds a way to profit from it. By doing this, entrepreneurs are not following a script; they are following their own creative compass.

This restless spirit to discover opportunities and provide creative solutions is one reason that the best business leaders are often involved in many different projects at the same time.

A CEO is a leader, but also a manager; a professional who understands people on both the macro and micro level. A successful CEO intuitively knows what motivates their employees, whether it be compensation, career challenges, recognition, or the opportunity to be part of an exciting mission. The CEO then tailors a leadership style to the particular team.

Often the style will be more collaborative and democratic. In many cases, the CEO must be a strong leader who is willing to chart a course that may be unpopular, at least in the short run. 

Successful CEOs are visionaries, but they also have a firm grasp of details. Business is about profit, and a CEO can easily lose track of the revenue stream and margins if they’re not paying attention to elements of the business that may, at first glance, appear to be minor; but can have immense long-term consequences if the right decisions aren’t made.

Over-the-horizon thinking is very important, especially when a CEO is seeking to discover and profit from trends in the market — whether in financial markets or consumer markets.

The best CEOs take time to reevaluate their decisions and their company’s position. They step back, take a look at where they are, where they’re going, where they may find some new opportunities, ways they can improve both the business and themselves. Through honest reflection, they notice things they can improve and do differently. In the process, they also derive immense satisfaction when they look back and see a record of achievement, a trail of success.