CEO Skills
by Joni Daniels

Pick up almost any edition of FAST Company, BusinessWeek, or Fortune Magazine. Browse the shelves of Barnes and Noble, Borders or surf through Not a month goes by when there isn't a new take on the critical skills that today's CEO's must have to lead their organizations into the next millennium.

Like the woodcutter who has no time to sharpen his blade, CEO's are eager to be more effective and efficient but have no time to create a plan. It is difficult to assess the essential skills that need development when you are at the top and running at breakneck speed. Add to the challenge the fact that it is not easy to get genuine, unbiased information about skills and behaviors if you occupy the top slot. People have their own agendas to look after, and the fear of retribution is alive and well in most organizations.

The real problem with the CEO's who write the articles, or are written about, and the consultants who author the latest how-to do-it-right books, is that they are not you, and they do not run your company. Defining a set of critical CEO skills often depends on the stage of development that the organization is in, the culture that defines the behavior of the employees, the goals and objectives the company has set, and the industry itself.

Most of us know that the success of the CEO and the organization are inextricably linked. To be successful, the CEO must:

Create a Vision

A successful vision excites people to pull together and work toward a goal that is possible, but does not currently exist. It aligns people from a wide variety of backgrounds and organizational levels. It is clearly understood by everyone. The ability to turn their vision of the organization into a realistic, credible, attractive future that allows people to feel pride and satisfaction is critical.

Communicate Well and Often

Effective communication skills involve talking, listening and asking questions. Leaders are available to send the message, provide information, give answers and set the tone. A winning CEO is one who possesses the ability to relate a compelling image of the desired state of affairs, inducing enthusiasm and commitment in others.

Attract and Develop Leaders

People want to be on a winning team, and they want the opportunity to be recognized for the talent and skills they bring into an organization. Today's employees also want to be developed, and trained in areas that benefit them as well as the organization. The ability to entrust others to translate intentions into reality - pulling rather than pushing people, gaining enthusiasm and energy as by-products - are essential CEO skills. People are motivated by identification rather than reward or punishment.

Create Effective Teams

The opportunity to work with others provides the chance to not only learn and develop, but also teach and train. The CEO, as leader of the senior team, can model and create that expectation. Delegating, follow-up, motivating and coaching can all be standards of excellence.

Do the Things ONLY He/She Can Do

The CEO is the person who sees the big picture, and paints it with bold, bright colors. He/she connects the organization to the outside world, sets goals and charts the path to the future. The CEO lets people know the part they will play in the success of the organization.

Management vs. Leadership

Some people assume that leadership and management are synonymous, but the terms are not interchangeable. Management is the formal authority people are given within an organization. Leadership is informal, is not necessarily conferred by the organization. It is said that Managers do things right; Leaders do the right thing. While there is no single definition of leadership, there seems to be an understanding that a leader is the person who commits people to action, converts followers into leaders and converts leaders into agents of change.

CEO's impact the climate of their organizations for reasons that have less to do with title, and more to do with behavior. They are tuned in to the mental attitude of employees, picking up on cues, clues and behaviors. They lead by example, and are aware that their behavior sets an example. It comes as no surprise that people pay attention to everything they do. Great CEO's know that, while employees can afford a bad day, they can't. They are very mindful about how they handle emergencies, and pay attention to how they handle pressure from the Board of Directors, key clients, and the marketplace. The best CEO's know that neglect is a key reason for the deterioration of companies, divisions and departments.

Successful CEO's:

  • Create the organization's values through their communication.
  • Develop committed followers.
  • Inspire lofty accomplishments.
  • Model appropriate behavior.
  • Focus attention on important issues.
  • Connect their companies to the outside world.

The best CEO's customize these practices and make them uniquely their own. The following checklist and strategies are the tactics that, when put into action, stack the odds in favor of success.

A CEO Checklist

  • Do the people I lead know where we are going and how we are going to get there together?

  • Do I carefully consider my employees' input in establishing plans, resolving problems and improving operations?

  • Am I accessible to my employees?

  • Can people in my organization predict how I will react to different situations?

  • Do I share my optimism about our success with my staff?

  • Do people enjoy coming to work? Do we have fun?

  • Do I promote people to greater responsibilities in my group and elsewhere in the company?

  • Do employees know how they are doing, what is expected of them, and what they can expect from me over the next few years?

Successful CEO Strategies:

  • Err on the side of strong leadership. While empowering others and developing talent is hoped for, CEO's get the "big bucks" to do the job of being the leader.

  • Be consistent. In an ever-changing marketplace, where companies seem to come and go like the latest TV shows, people want to know they can depend on the person who is in the organizational driver's seat.

  • Keep communicating. People learn slowly and forget easily. They have a very personal stake in what goes on at work. A CEO's message can compete with rumor, innuendo, fear and opinion. Provide information, vary the methods used and assume that no matter how much you communicate, it is never enough.

CEO Self-Assessment

Think about your role as the CEO. As you answer the questions, chose the number that best describes you next to each statement.

4 - 100% True; 3 - 75% True; 2 - 50% True; 1 - 25%True; 0 - 100% False

_____ Every employee knows my vision for the future of the company.
_____ I am seen every week, walking around the office and talking with employees.
_____ My employees understand the role they play in the company's success.
_____ I am known as someone who develops people.
_____ I ask for feedback.
_____ I often try things outside of my 'comfort zone."
_____ People know I mean what I say.
_____ I ask a lot of questions.
_____ I take into account the impact on employees when considering changes.
_____ I have plenty of energy and optimism to get me through the day.
_____ People enjoy coming to work here.
_____ I check with people I trust to get their opinions and reactions.
_____ I always have a plan of action if things don't go as intended.

Now, before you congratulate yourself, remember this is a Self Assessment. How do you KNOW your answer is accurate? Observable behaviors are the best way to know if your assessment is an accurate one.

For example: You know that every employee knows your vision for the future of the company, because you can stop any employee, ask them about your vision for the company, and each one will say the same thing, which echoes your vision.

You know that you are seen every week, walking around the office and talking with employees because people are not shocked to see you, you greet them by name, and the process takes longer than 20 minutes.

You know your employees understand the role they play in the company's success because they have ideas about how to add to the accomplishments of the organization.

So go out and ask a cross section of employees what they see you doing. If a tree falls with no one around, just imagine what it means when no employees hear or see their CEO.

Joni Daniels is the founder of Daniels & Associates, a consulting group specializing in personal and professional development. A nationally recognized trainer, speaker, author, and entrepreneur, Ms. Daniels has helped professionals at all levels to develop effective interpersonal skills. For more information, please visit or .

Many more articles in Creative Leadership in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2004 by Joni Daniels. All rights reserved.

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