The 7 Qualities of an Excellent CEO and Business Leader


The two requirements for an excellent leader are character and competence. Character refers to your personal qualities of integrity, courage, and persistence. Your competence is measured by how capable you are of leading, managing, and get- ting the job done. This is vital to your creating a high degree of unity and commitment among the people who report to you.
There are seven critical areas where you must perform consistently well to become an excellent executive and fulfill your responsibilities to yourself and your organization.

Job number one: Set and achieve business goals. This is the first area where clarity is essential. You must know exactly what it is you are trying to accomplish and how you will mea- sure success when you achieve it.

In a recent Fortune article investigating the reasons why twenty-eight CEOs of Fortune 500 companies had been fired in the previous three years, one fault stood out above all others: “Failure to execute.”

In warfare, a military commander is given the responsibility of achieving victory against the enemy. In business, each executive at every level is given the responsibility to achieve specific, measurable business victories or goals. The inability to get the required results, and to achieve the goals in a timely fashion, is the primary reason for failure, frustration, and firing at every level, in every company, large or small. Take the time to develop absolute clarity about what it is you expect to accomplish to justify your position and earn your pay. Then focus and concentrate all your energies on achieving that goal, or goals, in a timely fashion. Your reputation for achieving essential goals will help you more than any- thing else you can do.

When General George C. Marshall, chief of staff of the U.S. Army during World War II, was urged to replace the arrogant and outspoken General George S. Patton, he told his critics, “I can’t spare this man; he wins battles.”

Job number two: Innovate and market. Cash flow is the “blood to the brain” of every business organization. Cash flow comes from the ability to generate sales and revenues in a timely fashion. Sales generation requires continuous innovation and an un-relenting focus on marketing and selling the products and services of the company.

Apply the “CANEI Strategy” to your sales and marketing efforts. CANEI stands for “Continuous and Never-Ending Improvement.” Never be satisfied. Look for new, better, faster, and cheaper ways to market and sell your products, every day, and every hour of the day.

Victory in business terms means the ability to win customers, to capture markets, and to generate sales and revenues in excess of their costs. The ability of the executive or entrepreneur to innovate and market continuously is the ultimate determinant of business success, profitability, and promotion.

Job number three: Solve problems and make decisions.

Whatever title appears on your business card can be crossed out and replaced with the words “Problem-Solver.” This is your real job. You solve problems from morning to night. Your success is largely determined by how effective you are at solving the problems that arise in your work.

Effective executives are good at solving problems. They make the right decisions, and they make their decisions right. Whenever you are faced with a difficulty at work, ask,

“What exactly is the problem?” Beware of a problem for which there is only one definition. Restate the problem in several different ways to make it more amenable to a solution. Always ask, “What else is the problem?”

In solving problems, think and talk exclusively in terms of solutions. Focus all your attention on the specific actions you can take to solve the problem. Whatever the situation, make the necessary decisions, and continue moving forward. Forget about the past and who is to blame. Focus on the future and what actions you can take now. Take command.

Job number four: Set priorities, and work on key tasks.

One of your key responsibilities is to be working on your most vital task all the time and to assure that everyone who reports to you is also working on their key tasks.

Remember that only 20 percent of what you do accounts for 80 percent of your results. According to Robert Half Inter- national, fully 50 percent of time at work is wasted doing things that contribute nothing to the goals of the company. Of the 50 percent of time that is actually spent on the work, much of that is wasted as well on low-value tasks.

Always ask yourself, “What are my highest value activities?” If you could only do one thing all day long, what one task would that be?

Your ability to set correct priorities on the expenditure of time and resources is an essential skill of leadership. The very worst use of time is to do efficiently what need not be done at all.

Job number five: Concentrate single-mindedly on the one activity that can make the greatest difference. Long-term potential consequences are the key to setting priorities. Always ask yourself, “What is likely to happen if I complete, or fail to complete this particular task?” Something that is very important is something for which there are serious consequences, one way or the other.

Write down everything you have to do before you begin. Set priorities on your list by using the ABCDE system. An “A” task is something that is very important. It has serious consequences. A “B” task is something that should be done but has only minor consequences. A “C” task is something that it would be nice to do but that has no consequences at all, like going out for lunch or reading the newspaper.

A “D” task is something that you can delegate to other people. You should use your creativity to delegate everything you possibly can to free up more time for the few tasks that only you can do.

An “E” task is something that you can eliminate altogether. It may have been important at one time, but it does not con- tribute to the achievement of your goals today.

You can only get your time and your life under control to the degree to which you stop doing certain things. Practice “creative abandonment” with tasks that no longer contribute to accomplishing your most important goals.

Job number six: Perform and get results. This is how you are judged every single day. Your ability to get results determines your pay, your promotion, your success, and the respect and esteem in which you are held by the people around you.

Identify your key result areas, the tasks that you absolutely, positively have to do well in order to be successful. Set standards of performance on each of those tasks. Be sure that you can measure whether or not you have done the job in an excellent fashion.

Determine your critical success factors, those key metrics that tell you what is happening in each important area. Focus and concentrate on these critical numbers. Continually work to improve them.

Ask yourself continually, “What results are expected of me?” Whatever your answer to this question, work on these specific results single-mindedly. They are the major determinants of your success.

Job number seven: Be a role model for others. This is some- thing only you can do, and it is perhaps the most important responsibility of leadership. One of the marks of superior executives is that they conduct themselves as though everyone were watching them even when no one is watching. Top people set higher standards for themselves than others would set for them.

Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, postulated his universal maxim more than 200 years ago. He said, “Live your life as though your every act were to become universal law for all people.”

The highest achievement for a leader is the development of “moral excellence.” On this plane of behavior, the leader practices the highest virtues of courage, integrity, and character that it is possible for a person to have. The leader holds his own feet to the fire. He continually raises the bar on himself. He never makes excuses for his performance. He refuses to blame problems or difficulties on his subordinates. The leader acts as if everyone in the organization were looking to him to set the example for how they were supposed to behave. For example, Alexander the Great, even after he had conquered the greatest empire in the ancient world, always led his armies into battle personally. He rode at the front of his men to demonstrate to them that he had complete confidence in the outcome of the battle. He showed no fear. As a result, his soldiers were eager to follow throughout his brief but glorious career.

Perhaps nothing contributes more to unity of command than for subordinates to work under someone they greatly respect and admire. Your commitment to becoming a great person, and to demonstrating your values in your every act, is perhaps the most important quality of leadership.