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Essential Attributes of Successful CEOs

Over the past fifteen years, Nadel Phelan has had the opportunity to work closely with CEOs of companies, both large ($1b+) and small (start-ups). While each CEO brings a unique set of characteristics to the table, there are some commonalities between those that are able to steer their companies to success (whether through organic growth, acquisition, or an IPO) and those that fall short of their potential. Additional comments by online business expert Brian T. Edmondson are indicated in italics. Here's the short list of five essential attributes successful leaders possess:

  1. Has the ability to focus on the vision and to communicate that vision to stakeholders.

  2. Aware of operational details, however, not involved.

  3. Is on top of industry trends.

  4. Hires strong management teams and supports their decisions.

  5. Meets with customers and can articulate customer needs, challenges and business goals.

Having a Vision Being at the top of the pyramid, a great CEO must be able to clearly communicate the vision of the company in order to inspire staff, investors, and customers. As the company flag-bearer, all eyes turn to the CEO for direction and example. This applies no matter how big or small your company is. Even if you're a one-person startup you should have a vision and mission statement that guides you each day. This is especially important if you are working with multiple employees or a team.

Macro Management While it is key for the CEO to understand the every-day activities of the organization and how all the parts fit together to move the company forward, the best CEOs do not get dragged into the seductive lure of micro-managing granular details. Instead, they maintain a highly trained management team that is fully capable of handling these tasks. This enables the CEO to remain focused on the primary duties of increasing revenues and meeting the goals identified in the vision. Again, if you are a sole proprietor then you'll want to start outsourcing lower-level tasks as soon a possible so you can focus on higher-level income-generating activities in your business.

Leveraging Industry Trends Staying on top of industry trends through reading, attending conferences and joining trade associations is essential for CEOs to ensure that the direction and vision for the company are on course. The ability to see into the future is invaluable for steering clear of potential threats and capitalizing on future opportunities. This is especially important in the constantly evolving technology industry where the CEO needs to determine which changes will have a long-term impact and which are merely fads with little real value. Not only are attending events a great opportunity for training and education, but they bring great networking opportunities to develop strategic partnerships and generate new business.

Develop a Foundation of Strength No company or CEO is successful without a strong management team. Each member must be a leader that knows and is accountable for his or her job responsibilities (and does not try to do the work of other team members). Quality managers, in turn, know how to mentor and acknowledge the accomplishments of their own staff in order to keep them motivated, involved and on track to meet the business goals of the company. When hiring and firing it's best to follow the old adage of "hire slow and fire fast".

Customers are at the Core Successful CEOs look beyond their raw technology and focus on finding ways to help customers solve their problems. They describe their products in terms of how they address the needs and challenges of their customers instead of listing product capabilities. Great CEOs use their own customers’ words and verbiage. Through weekly meetings with customers, CEOs have an endless supply of anecdotal situations to share with stakeholders that help create a better product and a more thorough understanding of the customer requirements for a successful business relationship. One of the best ways you can develop sales, marketing, and communications that speak directly to your prospects and customers is to master the art of copywriting.

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