How to Think and Act Like a CEO

Borrow From the Best

Kevin & Jackie Freiberg

“The best CEOs we’ve met exude confident humility.”

Chief Executive Officer is one of the most powerful and sought-after titles in business and is often regarded as more exciting, rewarding and influential than many other roles. Yet, despite the luster of the role, serving as a CEO can be all-consuming, lonely and stressful. Only three in five newly appointed CEOs live up to performance expectations in their first 18 months on the job. The high standards and broad expectations of directors, shareholders, customers and employees create an environment of relentless scrutiny and fishbowl visibility—one move can dramatically make or derail a CEO’s otherwise accomplished career.

And BOOM, the current day COVD-19 crisis hits. Even the best CEOs are challenged. They’ve been thrust into leading an organization riddled with uncertainty, extreme market volatility, evolving disruption and the ongoing threat of furloughs and layoffs. Add, all while transitioning and learning how to lead a virtual workforce. Today, more than ever, businesses need everyone to think and act like a CEO.

When McKinsey & Company set out to discover what mindsets and practices are proven to make CEOs most effective, their findings were not crisis centered. Yet, the six main elements of a CEO’s job are even more significant in the face of this crisis.

McKinsey’s recent study offers all of us some helpful ideas for embracing the mindset and practices for rising strong together:

  • Setting the strategy
  • Aligning the organization
  • Leading the executive team
  • Working with the board
  • Being the face of the company to external stakeholders, and
  • Managing one’s own time and energy

They broke the six elements down into 18 specific responsibilities that fall exclusively to the CEO. Focusing on the 18 responsibilities, McKinsey & Co mined their proprietary database on CEO performance—the largest of its kind, containing 25 years worth of data on 7,800 CEOs from 3,500 public companies across 70 countries and 24 industries—to determine how the best CEOs think and act.

Exhibit 1 is a model for CEO excellence, prescribing the mindsets and practices that are most likely to help CEOs succeed and help all leaders think and act more like a CEO.

What can you do?

We’ve worked with a number of CEOs in the course of our careers, and the best exude confident humility. Here are strategies you can use to think and act like a successful CEO.

  • All of our routines have changed. This massive disruption gives us an opportunity to reevaluate what we do and how we do it. What should you add or subtract to your work and life routines to become more efficient and more productive?
  • Clarify your WHY. How can you use it to guide your actions and decisions?
  • Help everyone on your team understand how their role and responsibilities add value to the business. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
  • Find ways to link people’s performance (their attitudes and actions) as a means for achieving the vision and strategy.
  • Engagement drives performance. Don’t turn a blind eye to people’s frustrations, especially during a time of such uncertainty. Provide ongoing and consistent real time coaching and performance development for your people.
  • Act as a unified team by aligning everyone around the vision and strategy.
  • It’s become painfully evident that success is fleeting and subject to unforseen factors. Guard against hubris and avoid the demon of pomposity.
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