To be a chief executive

About half of the 150 CEOs that were interviewed for the book The Secrets of CEOs said that they found that the hours were long, the responsibilities huge and international travel played havoc with social life. You need to be sure you really want the job


“We find many people are interested in climbing the greasy pole but really don’t have much of an idea of what it really takes to operate effectively when they get there,” David Cumberbatch, the managing director of Xancam, a business psychology company, said. “They don’t really have a clear understanding of what a CEO does on a day-to-day basis, whether or not they would enjoy doing that and whether or not they have the skills to do that.”

One of the things on which Mr Cumberbatch assesses potential candidates to be chief executives is “strategic ability”, how broadly people are able to think. Can they spot issues outside their department or company that might have an impact on them? Can they think ahead about the challenges and opportunities for the business? “It is no good looking at what the CEO does now if it’s going to take you five years to get there,” he said.

Max Landsberg, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles, said that 70 percent of what determines whether someone is CEO material is how they have performed at work. You need to prove yourself in a variety of roles and situations. Many CEOs have changed roles, companies and countries regularly. They are happy to move.

Up to 20 percent of what makes a good CEO is mentoring and coaching, Mr Landsberg said. “Find people who can help you at turning points in your career or can help you find turning points.” He suggested finding a mentor rather than having one appointed by HR. (Another 10 per cent of what makes a good CEO is formal training.)
“CEOs are decisive. Good CEOs are very able to make decisions. The right decisions,” Mr Landsberg said. This is something hardwired in our psyche, in his opinion, although others believe that you can learn to be more decisive. One thing CEOs are very decisive about is delegation.

“CEOs need to be really good at reading situations, but equally good at reading people,” Virginia Merritt, managing partner of Stanton Marris, a consultancy, said. “What I think marks out someone as real CEO material is the ability to understand ideas quickly and then talk with and engage people and understand very quickly how they will react to them.” You need to be able to talk as effectively with shareholders as workers on the shop floor. Practise by seeking out opportunities to speak.

CEOs need to demonstrate drive for the company or industry they work in and not only for their own personal advancement, Mr Bones said. Volunteer for leadership roles to demonstrate your drive. “But don’t dominate.

People don’t want boorish or bullish behaviour,” he said. People who make it to the top are motivated to take high-risk moves to advance their career, Mr Cumberbatch said.

Source: A survey of 1,001 chief executives by Monika Hamori at Instituto de Empresa Business School, Madrid