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By: Jim Morris

Many senior executives aspire to becoming a CEO – the ultimate goal of a successful career. So what does it take to be a CEO? To gain an idea we asked Jim Morris, a Manufacturing CEO and member of BlueSteps, to comment on what he thought it takes to lead from the top position:

A successful Chief Executive Officer (CEO) will not have to search for the meaning of what constitutes an effective leader. Leading a company in the CEO position requires a very agile, action oriented manager who enjoys working with people at all levels. The executive must be well versed in creative problem solving as the answers to most problems cannot be found in a book – CEO’s must lead not follow. Attraction to change management is an essential component of a manufacturing leader and a vital characteristic needed to achieve substantial progress.

Your Decisions, Many Others Affected

The CEO position requires the judgment and responsibility to spend stakeholders’ money in a manner that achieves an acceptable ROI. In order to perform effectively, the CEO must have had substantial executive-level experience in most functions of a business and understand the impact that spending and investing in the business has on the financials of the company. Analytical financial skills are vital to success. One must be able and willing to make decisions and changes based on financials and Key Performance Indicators.

Having complete Profit & Loss (P&L) responsibility is a very serious challenge that requires mature business judgment and solid integrity – the bottom line affects many people in many different ways.

Strategic Leader and Talent Manager
The CEO job involves dealing with customers, employees, and anyone else who affects the business in a way that ensures positive outcomes are the most common outcomes. The CEO must know when to be patient and when to expect results quickly. This leader must be a very astute listener to properly analyze information and be willing to make decisions that will not always be popular. He/she must have the ability to look ahead, visualize the realistic “big picture”, be very analytical, and create strategic plans that allow the company to compete and prosper.

Not only are strategic planning skills necessary, but knowing how to execute these plans through multiple teams and departments is required to keep the company headed in the right direction. This person must be highly disciplined and have firm personal values that compliment those of his employer. The successful CEO surrounds himself with highly competent people that he/she can learn from, that have similar values, and that don’t need to be micro-managed.

Communication and Teamwork
Great communication skills cannot be over-emphasized. The effective CEO will be unable to communicate well without first being an excellent listener. Most people understand how to talk but fewer people listen as well. This leader should maintain poise under trying circumstances, and understand why the company needs to hear from him or her. Good news should be communicated regularly as well as challenges the company must overcome. The CEO must know how to keep the Board properly informed and understand exactly what is expected of him or her. All senior executives should not only be able to answer the hard questions knowledgeably but ask them as well. Without a culture of good communication, it is very difficult to thrive.

Lastly, an effective CEO is a very unselfish, giving person. A teamwork culture requires that everyone applies their talents, knowledge, and ideas for the good of the company. The CEO should be the first person to display this trait and understand how and why it works. In my career, I have learned the main function of a successful leader is to ensure that the right people are in place, and that they are provided with the tools, training, and mentoring necessary to successfully achieve the expectations that have been clearly communicated to them.

Once the CEO prioritizes people and talent, the team succeeds, the company prospers, and everyone will be rewarded according to their contribution, including the CEO. Being a CEO is not for the feint hearted or someone that avoids calculated risk. It is a job for a senior executive that is driven by continual improvement, excited by the prospect of being a strong competitor in the marketplace, and someone that thrives on challenge and change.