The Top 15 Essential CEO Skills

What are the CEO skills needed for success on the job? Once CEOs understand the five responsibilities of the role and the six ways they should spend their time, I think there are 15 key skills they should cultivate. Why these 15? They help CEOs set their organizations up for success with systems, processes and resources; manage and lead well; and continuously learn/keep up with trends to help predict where the organization is going and what it will need in the future. Some CEOs will naturally be better at these than others, but all can be learned and perfected with the right attitude and zest for knowledge.

Here are the 15 CEO skills in no particular order. The links go to full articles and videos about each one on the Khorus blog, where I published a whole series about this topic.

  1. Attracting Employees: One of the most important uses of a CEO’s time is focusing on recruiting and hiring top talent. Too often, organizations treat hiring as a tactical fire drill rather than a critical part of the strategic plan. CEOs need to own this process.
  2. Retaining Employees: Too many organizations neglect employees once they are hired. CEOs should focus on the “A” (or top) players and ensure that they feel empowered to do their best work in support of a compelling purpose.
  3. Employee Development: This is an important part of retaining employees. The best workers want to be part of something special. CEOs need to set a clear vision and show employees how their contributions can support it. In addition, they should implement systems and processes to develop employee talent.
  4. Communication: Communication is essential for any CEO, but many think they can get away with addressing the employees just a few times a year. CEOs need to regularly communicate information that is timely, relevant, and tailored to each audience. This includes being transparent about both positive and negative developments.
  5. Leadership: CEOs must act through people, and leadership is effectively influencing people to achieve desired outcomes. There are three tools CEOs must use in concert to achieve influence: credibility, competence and caring.
  6. Sales Knowledge: The best CEOs are great sales people. They use the art of persuasion to build a company and obtain the best resources, create and establish a brand, and also acquire and manage customers.
  7. Operational Knowledge: It’s critical that CEOs understand internal operations and build systems that allow them to scale the company as it grows. As Jim Schleckser of the Inc. CEO Project says, failure to have more mature systems and processes will inhibit the company’s growth.
  8. Financial Knowledge: Don’t abdicate this skill set to the finance person. CEOs must understand the financials to dynamically make adjustments and prepare for the future.
  9. Regulation and Governance Knowledge: CEOs need to be aware of how laws and regulations may impact their businesses. They should seek outside sources of information rather than just relying on their legal counsel.
  10. Market and Customer Knowledge: CEOs cannot effectively lead if they don’t understand their product, customers, and competition. Failure to do this adequately can negatively impact credibility and competence.
  11. Tying Strategy to Execution: Coming up with a master plan is not enough. To succeed, CEOs must show employees how their day-to-day work contributes to that long-term plan, help them set smart goals, and measure their progress consistently.
  12. Attention to Detail: CEOs must balance between big picture strategy and the urge to micromanage every detail. Savvy CEOs focus on the details that matter.
  13. Anticipate Organizational Needs: One of the CEO’s key responsibilities is to provide the proper resources. The best CEOs look out six months to one year ahead to fulfill those needs before they became major weaknesses.
  14. Emotional Intelligence: Former Campbell Soup CEO Douglas Conant said what derails most CEOs is the “soft stuff.” This includes the ability to empathize with others and understand their needs.
  15. Build the Culture: Culture is how things get done in an organization. CEOs can and should actively manage for the culture they want.

Did I miss any critical CEO skills?



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