The Secrets Of A CEO

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The questions I asked myself years ago as a CEO and the questions I see my CEO clients ask themselves now about improving usually fall into three buckets: What do I need to know, what do I need to do and whom do I need to be? While I address these 3 critical questions in more detail in my book, “Never Kick A Cow Chip On A Hot Day—Real Lessons For Real CEOs And Those Who Want To Be”, here is a short primer.

I believe these can serve as a framework for anyone who wants to improve their position in life — whether it’s title, competency or confidence.

A friend recently described an executive he’d worked with, a former general in the Marine Corps who’d transitioned to the business world and was tasked with turning around a troubled business. As he described it, this guy had no background in the industry he entered yet was able to quickly succeed because he had a clear understanding of what it takes to lead an organization. What was it that he knew that allowed him to succeed? There are five things a great CEO must know about business.

1. Customers’ minds and hearts. What makes them tick? What makes them buy your product versus someone else’s? What keeps them awake at night? How can you make them look good? And, more important, what are the answers to those questions for their customers?

2. Employees’ minds and hearts. How do you create commitment versus just compliance? What are the characteristics of those who’ll align with your vision and values? What are the reward systems (think way beyond compensation) that’ll fire them up about your company and your customers? What kind of communication do they respond best to?

3. The business model. How do you win? Where are you going (vision)? What are you doing to get there (strategy)? What are the core competencies necessary for you to execute your strategy? How can you do it cheaper and faster or add more value for the customer? What are the model’s weak points?

4. Process management. Do you know how to think strategically (that’s a process, not a God-given strength), solve problems (again, a process), plan, make decisions (yup, once again there’s a process for this), build the optimal culture and communicate effectively?

5. Himself or herself. What are you good at? What are your weaknesses? How can you leverage your strengths? How can you improve your weak areas? What are your blind spots? (As you might guess, you’ll need help to find those.) What are your values? What’s your career plan?

If you can effectively answer those questions, it doesn’t matter whether you’re selling baked beans or manufacturing airplanes.

We’ll tackle the other two big questions next: What do I need to do, and whom do I need to be?

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