What is a CEO?

A CEO (Chief Executive Officer) is the highest ranking executive, and head of an organization or corporation.

A CEO's duties will vary slightly from company to company, but for the most part they run the company, and are responsible for the vision, mission, direction, and the formulation and implementation of a strategic plan to make a company successful.

What does a CEO do?

A CEO is a very focused leader that has the ability to constantly guide, direct (or re-direct) and evaluate a company's roadmap and direction. CEOs are a combination of both an entrepreneur (ideas person), and a hands-on person.

A CEO sitting at his desk and focusing on making company decisions.

CEOs are ultimately responsible and accountable for the success or failure of a company, always digging into the details until things are perfect. They must be aware of any external competitors, as well as have the insight to take advantage of any opportunities that come along that can accelerate company growth. They also need to be aware of any new industry developments and standards that may need to be implemented, always keeping at the forefront the needs of the customer.

A CEO will formulate and establish a strategic plan that will give the company direction, and may solicit advice and guidance from the board of directors, or advisors, if needed. Demonstrating great leadership qualities and being able to garner respect is imperative. By providing the company with great company culture, clear vision, purpose and direction, the CEO will create a positive atmosphere and workplace which will result in growth and success.

In the case of a startup, the CEO's responsibilities include everything: hiring, firing, operations, marketing & sales, public relations, fund-raising, forming partnerships, strategic planning, company culture, team building, bookkeeping, taxes, human resources, and the delegation of work and responsibilities within the company (which are in constant motion).

One of the most crucial responsibilities of a CEO is to have a clear vision of where the company is headed. This vision can often be five to ten years out. If the vision is set too low, and the CEO's achievement acceptance is more on the mediocre side, the company's growth will be limited as a result.

Performance benchmarks need to be put in place in order to have a highly successful company, and this can be done by having a CEO that is constantly learning and growing both on a personal and professional level. By keeping up to date and understanding what the best CEO's in the world are doing better, a CEO can then figure out what they can do to measure up, reach that level, and eventually surpass it.

Are you suited to be a CEO?

CEOs have distinct personalities. They tend to be enterprising individuals, which means they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic. They are dominant, persuasive, and motivational. Some of them are also investigative, meaning they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive.

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What is the workplace of a CEO like?

A CEO will typically work in an office environment, and will often travel in order to meet with clients or potential partners and investors.

Their hours are not on a typical nine-to-five work week schedule, especially if running their own start-up. Most CEO's work long days, sometimes 12 to 16 hours, and their work week often extends into the weekend.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a CEO and a president?

There seems to be a bit of confusion about the differences between being a CEO and being the president of a company. Depending on the company, there can be distinct differences between the job functions of the two roles. Or in the case of smaller companies, both roles can be carried out by the same person. The following should give some clarification:

In general, the CEO (chief executive officer) is considered to be the highest ranking officer in a company. As there is no one higher up in the company, the CEO sets the vision, mission, and strategic goals for the longterm. If the CEO is also the owner of the company (as is often the case with most small companies), the CEO's reason for the company's existence is crystal clear and always in the forefront.

Therefore, it is reasonable that a CEO's main responsibilities include making major decisions, managing the operations and resources, being the public face of the company, and being the liaison between the board of directors and operations. In fact, CEO's often have a position on the board, and use the board of directors more as advisers, with each advisor possessing a different expertise.

For companies that have both a CEO and a president, the president of a company is generally second in command, and works very closely with the CEO. The president's responsibilities include overseeing the day-to-day business functions and implementing ways to carry out the vision and mission of the CEO. The president will also set specific company goals that are to be met at specific times, and will hold meetings with vice presidents or managers in order to relay these goals to them so they can direct their staff.

For smaller companies, having both a CEO and a president may not be necessary due to the size of the company. In these instances, one person, often the owner of the company, typically takes on both positions (for example, owner John Doe would take on the title of 'John Doe, President and CEO'). This individual, then, would not only set the vision for the company but also handle the company's daily operations. That being said, some small company owners would rather not have two titles and just prefer to take on the title of CEO.

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What is the difference between a CEO and a COO?

The CEO (Chief Executive Officer) is the leader of a company and is responsible for directing and setting the organization’s policies, vision, and goals. CEOs have authority over all other company personnel as they have the last say in policy and management decision-making. The CEO also answers to the board of directors.

COO stands for Chief Operating Officer and is a position only found in larger companies. The COO (Chief Operations Officer) reports to and is the right-hand man to the CEO and oversees the functions and general operations of a company. These responsibilities are typically the responsibility of the CEO, however, when a company becomes too large, a COO is needed to lessen the burden.

The COO will often be involved in advising and helping the CEO with decision-making, establishing a vision for the company's future, and determining how to lead going forward. With the support of the CEO and the board of directors, the COO will lead the execution of a company's strategy, and will ultimately be responsible for its performance.

The COO also works closely with the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Information Officer (CIO), and other officers to make appropriate operational adjustments. Ultimately, the COO reports to the CEO and advises him/her on issues regarding the structure of the company and operations.

In summary:

Comes up with the creative vision
Pitches the company
Raises funding
Makes executive decisions
Holds meetings with COO, CTO, etc.
Hires and fires people
Answers to the board of directors
Keeps all departments in check

Executes the CEO's vision
Manages daily operations
Makes operational decisions
Helps prepare documentation
Helps manage employees
Helps manage the various teams
Guides other executives with important tasks
Helps the CEO gather important information

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What makes a great CEO?

It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to become a CEO. And it takes even more work to earn the respect and admiration of your entire organization. Being a great CEO is more than 'calling the shots' and delegating work. Being an effective leader means having a vision that inspires people to do their best work for the good of the company.

A female CEO conducting a boardroom meeting.

Here are three traits that all great CEOs must possess in order to run a successful organization:

Great CEOs know that excellent communication skills are the secret to influencing people and inspiring them to act. They use these skills every single day, in every interaction, in every meeting, on every phone call, and every situation. They also know how important it is to be clear and concise in their communication, as the opposite of that quickly causes confusion and chaos.

If an organization is to reach a high level of success, the entire organization has to be on board and think the same way. Therefore, frequent communication between leaders and their employees is important in order to keep the whole organization engaged and to boost morale when necessary. A CEO must be able to clearly communicate what they need, from whom, when they need it, and how they need it done.

According to a Navalent study on Developing Exceptional Executives, "Top executives are consistently transparent and balanced in their communication. They effectively translate their view of business potential and challenges, as well as expectations for action using succinct, direct and readily understandable language in doses that are easily digestible."

Without an understanding of the customer's needs, the employees needs, and the needs of other stakeholders, CEOs can’t make decisions that will move their company forward in the right direction. So, while it may be a challenge and go against the natural inclination of many CEOs, cultivating better listening skills is critical to success.

The same Navalent study states that: "Top executives are distinguished by the consistency with which they listen to, and actively seek out the ideas and opinions of others. They incorporate other views into their plans to solve organizational problems."

Rob Kennedy, co-CEOs of C-SPAN says: “Consider your audience and who you’re talking to, and respect your audience whether it’s a large group, a one-on-one meeting, or a small group meeting you’re conducting. Listen more; talk less; try to understand things from their perspective; don’t waste their time.”

Diana Tremblay, Vice President of General Motors gives this advice: “Don’t think because you’re a leader that you have all the answers. You should make sure you’re spending as much time listening, if not more, than talking. And make sure that you’re not afraid to ask for help if there are things you don’t know – I can guarantee there are things you don’t know. It’s OK to reach out and ask for help, and allow those people that have that expertise to contribute. You don’t have to know it all because you’re the leader.”

CEOs don't always have the right answers or pick the right direction to go in. The difference between an average CEO and a great CEO is the ability to listen attentively. When a CEO can listen and seek out the ideas of others, the company is far more likely to be a success.

Being Humble
Often, ego traps talented leaders to the point where their opinion matters more than anyone else's. They stop listening, and as soon as that happens, they stop learning and growing. An ego can stop a person from processing information and seeing the reality of a situation.

Great CEOs bring out the best in other people, not just themselves. They are more concerned about the needs and accomplishments of other people than they are with their own. Great leadership is more about humility and serving, not about arrogance and telling people what to do.

Janet Zaretsky from The Zenith Business says: "Great CEOs have an 'everyone wins' mentality, and their leadership style is about developing everyone to do their best. They cannot be all ego. They must have a vision and strategic direction ability, but the ones I have seen that do the best, engender the best in everyone around them."

John Gainor, CEO and president of International Dairy Queen, Inc. gives this advice: "You need to treat every employee no different than how you want to be treated. Every person in an organization or in a store, their job is critical.”

It’s much harder to practice humility, because it means having to be vulnerable. However, a humble leader is far more relatable and approachable which then creates a work environment where employees can feel more comfortable being open, taking risks, and showing vulnerability themselves. In order to be a great CEO, you have to be both confident in your abilities and decisions, yet willing to admit your faults and be open to feedback and making adjustments.

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Should I become a CEO?

Reaching the top job within an organization is a monumental goal. It demands some very specific traits and skills.

And first on the list are drive and ambition.

Alongside: communication and listening skills; big-picture thinking, the ability to strategize; boundless capacity to build relationships, connect with people, and lead; willingness to make hard choices; undeterred by pressure; and inspiring of respect.

What are CEOs like?

Based on our pool of users, CEOs tend to be predominately enterprising people. The principal responsibility of these business leaders – to establish a corporation’s policies and vision – most certainly calls for an enterprising mindset.

How long does it take to become a CEO?

Becoming a CEO can take a long time. Of course, individuals who start their own business can appoint themselves to the role, but those seeking CEO positions with outside companies often spend years getting educated and acquiring experience.

Some rise through the ranks of a single corporation, while others prepare by making high-level impacts at more than one organization.

Are CEOs happy?

CEOs rank among the happiest careers. Overall they rank in the 93rd percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.

The high happiness metric among CEOs is likely connected to two particular aspects of the role: (1) the opportunity to lead at the highest levels and to witness the results of one’s

CEOs are also known as:
Chief Executive Officer Executive Officer