Bezos. Zuckerberg. Musk. Jobs. Buffet. Branson. Our favorite CEOs are rock stars in the business world, recognized for their vision, big personalities and success. But the mighty can fall--just ask Marissa Meyer and Tony Hsieh.
If you've got your sights set on the top seat, I've got news for you--it's not what you expect. Often there's a buffer between perception and reality and because of that, it can be really difficult to prepare yourself to become a really great CEO.
There are some core muscles you can begin exercising to prepare yourself for that uncommon success that we all covet.
1. Become the ultimate cheerleader
As a CEO, you're going to be incredibly busy. Regardless of what you're working on, day in and day out, you're selling. Anyone who's been in business long enough knows the path of a sale is often strange, disjointed and longer than you expected. Selling as a CEO is an investment in everyone you meet.
A conversation with someone at the grocery store could turn into a sale. A customer who turns you down today could turn around and hire you tomorrow, or come back a year from now ready to commit.
I tell my teams often, "Everyone comes back around."
It's true, and you can't be too busy to engage. That means following up regularly and being available to take calls or meet in person. Sharing wherever you have the opportunity. And there's no reason you can't start now. Introduce yourself to at least one new person every week. No excuses.
2. Never burn a bridge.
We've ALL had to fight the urge to go off on someone. To tell everyone we know about someone who wronged us. To set fire to a bridge so completely that being in the same restaurant would be intolerable.
Fight that urge. This might actually be the hardest thing you do in your career. You're going to encounter people who aren't nice, who screw you over, or prove difficult to work with. But you never know when you might have to work with that person again. They may become the contact at your biggest client or sit on the board of a partner organization.
Don't let a bad relationship boomerang back around and smack you in the face.
3. Own the company culture.
The CEO IS the company. Everything you do reflects the company and everything the company does is a reflection of you. In the eyes of employees and the public, you are at the epicenter of everything, even when you're not. If you have any doubts, ask Uber CEO Travis Kalanick about his recent experience.
It's not just about your actions outside of the company. Inside, the CEO sets the tone for the culture. Even something as simple as the way you decorate your space says a lot about your leadership style, which will inevitably trickle through the organization.
Most importantly, learn the good traits... and the not so good traits you have a tendency to exhibit. You'll need this self awareness as you build a team that will ultimately balance these aspects of your personality.
4. Set expectations with people in your life.
CEOs work really freaking hard and long. There's just no way around it. It's possible to maintain work/life balance, but getting close requires making room in your life for the overwhelming juggernaut of work.
That means setting expectations for people in your life, and finding ways to build work time into your life rather than having it forced upon you. When you're CEO, you're important. A lot of people are depending on you to react quickly when needed. As long as you accept that rather than fighting it, you'll find a way to make it work and keep everyone happy.
5. Realize your feelings don't matter
When you decide to put those three little letters on your business card, realize that will be the last good, selfish decision you'll make. Everything from that point on is about others. This can be an incredibly humbling experience, and then it will humble you some more.
Perhaps the most incongruent aspect of this selfless fact is that others assume the exact opposite --assuming all CEO's are incredibly selfish. The majority, however, are incredibly self-less as they realize the gravity of their decisions and their actions.
That piece of bad news? As CEO you can't afford to be seen as discouraged. That employee who absolutely drives you up a wall? A good leader can't afford to lash out. Every piece of your day must become highly orchestrated as you curate honesty while maintaining an even keel.
I don't care how many articles are written about how tough it is, and the mental pitfalls of the constant responsibility --at the end of the day, your job is to inspire and to reassure and every action has to be tempered against that goal.
You're going to get plenty of advice on your way up: How to be a better leader. When to take risks. Managing financials, etc. And that's all very important. But on your journey, make sure you're also focusing on these lesser shared nuggets. Because in business, it's as much, if not more, about how you make people feel in addition to what you can do.