The fundamental competencies that determine a successful chief executive officer generally hold true from industry to industry. This is not to say that a CEO at a SaaS startup can transform immediately into the role of a CEO at a banking institution, but at the core, running a successful enterprise requires a basic foundation which business leaders must possess. These core competencies generally allow for successful CEOs to pivot from one industry to another.
The most successful CEOs have maintained a careful balance between vision and operational details. Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001 said, “Genuine leadership comes from the quality of your vision and your ability to spark others to extraordinary performances.” A highly successful leader must be a constant source of inspiration. The ability to inspire and execute is the signal virtue of a successful CEO.
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According to a Forbes article “The Path to Becoming a Fortune 500 CEO” by Jeffrey Sanders, Vice Chairman and Managing Partner of the North American CEO Practice for Heidrick Struggles, “about 30 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs spent the first few years of their careers developing a strong foundation in finance.” A leader needs to be a visionary who drives creative ideas to the forefront of business, but if that drive is not supported by strong financial competencies, the vision may never come to reality. A strong CEO needs to fully comprehend financial modeling and budgeting along with being completely comfortable with those analytics to raise capital and execute strategies to produce an attractive return on investment.
With the advent of crowdfunding and cross-industry venture capitalism, we work in an environment where starting a business is generally no longer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Financial engineering and entrepreneurial business constructs are the primary creative forces in a constantly evolving economy. Those who start their own businesses understand the struggle that comes with transformational leadership. Successful CEOs bridge thought to action!
The best leaders have a fundamental understanding of current events. An article by Business Insider cites the morning routines of twelve influential leaders, including Gary Vaynerchuk, cofounder and CEO of VaynerMedia, who “plans his mornings down to the minute…first thing, he catches up on, the news.” Many CEOs stay abreast of news, current events, and technology, as well as the landscape of their individual industries whether they be finance, politics, education…
Perhaps the most important attribute that highly successful CEO’s share is their ability to lead a company with honesty, transparency and consistency — which leads to the creation of a culture of trust. With so many executives in business for the wrong reasons, trustworthiness is critically important. In order to be perceived as trustworthy, CEOs must demonstrate consistency in their leadership.
A CEO can pivot from one industry to another by understanding the long-term benefits of a value-driven approach to business. CEO decisions are based on considering the impact of that decision on the organization over an extended period of time. Will decisions made to meet challenges in the short-term ultimately uphold the overall values of the company? Will they align with its mission statement, its dedication to the client, and the judgment of the board of directors? CEOs keep the culture of trust intact by intelligently staying a course of providing value to the organization. Successful CEOs create an environment that embraces a philosophy of value over the long term.
A breadth of operational experience and business judgment is critical in building transferable skills that carry leaders from venture to venture and win to win. Successful CEOs generally have leadership qualities that span multiple industries: vision, financial acumen, trustworthiness and values are key among them. When making a career pivot, it’s up to the executive to transfer these core strengths to the new endeavor.