What leadership qualities do great CEOs usually possess? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
I've got five:
- Storytelling. Great founders are able to articulate the story of their company and its mission, and the story of themselves, to employees, investors, and customers. And they do it with an energy that's almost like a religious fervor--they evangelize, basically. It's about getting people to feel that there's a movement here and they have a chance to be part of it. You have to create this energy that makes it feel like it's inevitable that this little thing you're building will grow and grow and you'll win. It's about inspiring conviction. Every CEO has their own way of doing this.
For example, Marc Benioff used this very simple idea of "No Software" that encapsulated people's frustration with on-prem software. And he was in-your-face about it, selling his story again and again to as many people as possible. He would literally have people holding banners outside Oracle conferences that said "No Software," like a protest, because he knew everyone would be there to see them. He found something that resonated with customers and created a movement around it. In its early days, Salesforce was a movement as much as it was a product.
Ashutosh Garg, CEO of Eightfold (no relation), has a different approach. He's more cerebral and less extroverted in his approach than Marc. Ashu really believes in the problem and that his product will solve it. There are billions of people who are unhappy with their jobs and Eightfold will help them. He's elevated recruiting AI into a noble cause and he's great at selling that vision one-on-one, that we're in this together to solve the problem of employment. People pass up higher paying roles at other companies to come to work at Eightfold because they feel like Ashu is calling them to do a higher mission.
- Clarity of communication. It's critical for founders to constantly reiterate the strategy, to provide hope and optimism while also being transparent about the reality on the ground. It's hard to do every day; so often, its feels easier to avoid the tough conversations and yet, every day, the most successful founders make a conscious choice to engage in constructive candor.
It's not enough to know what the bigger picture is. There has to be constant communication across the organization about how to get there. CEOs need to constantly clarify goals, objectives and responsibilities. Who's responsible for A, B, C and how you get to 1, 2, 3. One of my favorite communication tools is a weekly email to the entire team that gives business updates, articulates the rationale for your decisions, and shares what's on your mind.
- Self-correcting. Like most evangelical leaders, successful CEOs have deeply held convictions, but they are also self-critical and reflective. Great CEOs need to be sponges - constantly seeking feedback from the market and about themselves. They listen intently, take notes, and ask thoughtful questions that reflect that they were listening. At every stage, most founder-CEOs are doing the biggest job they have ever done in their lives. Successful CEOs are able to grow as fast as (or faster than) their company grows.
- Grit and resourcefulness. There's no substitute for grit, for relentlessness, but it's not enough to be gritty. You have to also be able to get stuff done, and for that you need ingenuity. There's a word in Hindi that captures what I mean: jugaad. It basically means making do with what you have, making lemonade out of lemons. Finding workarounds to obstacles. Grit makes you good and resourcefulness makes you great. My greatest founder/CEOs--including Brett Wilson (TubeMogul), Ashutosh Garg (Eightfold), Ambuj Kumar (Fortanix)--have this trait. They figure stuff out and get shit done.
- Bias for action. CEOs lead from the front and lead by example. When required, they step in and "put their shoulder to the wheel". They are obsessed with the details of the business and have the key metrics at their finger tips.
A couple of additional resources. If you really want to get into the weeds, I have a podcast in which I interview great CEOs about leadership. I also wrote a blog post about what founders can learn from Mahatma Gandhi that goes into this if you want to learn more.
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