What makes a great CEO?

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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:

Communication
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."

Listening
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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