7 attributes of highly effective tech company CEOs

CEO watcher and analyst Robe Enderle outlines the key ways you can improve your leadership ability

When I was at IBM, I spent some time in the Executive Resource program, which is designed specifically to prepare someone to be a CEO. The program includes classes by top executives and military officers who either were CEOs themselves or were on the short path to becoming a CEO.

Outside the Executive Resource program, I've also met or studied a number of CEOs, including Thomas Watson Jr., Steve Jobs, Louis Gerstner, Bill Gates and a variety of others. Each had unique skills, and no one was perfect in all things - though Watson came closest. Some were founders, some the sons of founders and some hired to fix broken companies, but each stood out in succeeding where peers in the same period failed.

One thing I've concluded: There really is no CEO 101. The best we can do is offer a basic set of rules that CEOs should follow based on the best practices of their peers. I'll walk you through the key best practices that generally assured the success of one or more of their efforts. Clearly, this would make more sense as a book than as an article, but the book will have to wait.

1. Build a Loyal Team

I doubt everyone who worked for Jobs actually liked the guy, but all were handpicked by him and loyal to him. This is one key characteristic of a successful CEO: When the CEO says jump, employees are already a couple feet off the ground. Senior executives may bicker and posture against each other, but the successful CEO has a team that supports him, that has his back rather than looking for a place to stick the knife.

If Carly Fiorina had one major failure at Hewlett-Packard, she didn't seem to know how to build and maintain a loyal executive team and, as a result, her failure at HP was largely due to her being shot from the inside. Her most loyal supporter, her CMO, put in the final knife when she left to join Apple - and she was far from the first to depart.

With a loyal team of qualified people who have balanced skills, there's very little a company can't do. With a disloyal team looking to take advantage of the CEO's failures, or simply not be blamed for them, there's little a company can do.

2. Understand the Power of Perception

While many consider Jobs the guru here, thanks in large part to the landmark ‘I'm a Mac’ campaign that rebrand Steve Ballmer's Microsoft as foolish and ineffective, Gerstner actually understood this better. He hired a handpicked marketing team of outsiders to change how IBM was perceived long before he could change the reality of what IBM was during his turnaround effort.

No company is all good or all bad. Even a troubled company can have enough assets that, if they are emphasised and the problems are downplayed, it can appear more valuable and its products more attractive. Most CEOs don't really understand the power of perception. Carol Bartz struggled with this at Yahoo, and she lasted less than three years there.

At the other extreme, CEOs can venture too far from reality and simply destroy the company's credibility. (Then again, this can work. Look at P.T. Barnum, who created an empire by getting people to believe in the impossible.)

3. Never Underestimate the Power of Intelligence

This goes back to Sun Tzu, who argued that intelligence was the general's most important resource. EMC's Joe Tucci stands out as the one CEO who seems to understand the importance of intelligence. EMC’s efforts to use data analytics to analyse its customers, its partners' customers and even its competitors' customers stand out in an industry of cobbler's children when it comes to actually using the products that technology companies build to their own internal advantage.

All too often these days, you see CEOs surrounded by people telling them what they want to hear. Given how common confirmation bias is, that's deadly. John Akers, the only IBM CEO ever fired, was the poster child for this problem. While it wasn't really his fault, the practice of protecting the CEO from bad information almost killed the company.

If you don't know what's really going on with your employees, customers, competitors or market, it isn't a question of if you will fail. It's only a question of when.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Blog Posts

3 skills you need to drive better collaboration

A study published in The Harvard Business Review found the time spent in collaborative activities at work has increased by over 50 per cent in the past two decades. Larger projects; complicated problems; tighter timeframes: These require bigger teams with specialised skillsets and diverse backgrounds, often dispersed globally.

Jen Jackson

CEO, Everyday Massive

Better the bank you know?

In 2018, only 21 per cent of customers believed that banks in general had their customers best interests at heart and behave ethically. Only 26 per cent believed that banks will keep their promises; views cemented further following the Hayne Financial Services Royal Commission.

Carolyn Pitt

Head of account management, Hulsbosch

What 15 years of emotional intelligence told us about youth media audiences

Taking people on an emotional journey through content is the most critical part of being a publisher. Which is why emotion lies at the heart of VICE Media.

Stephanie Winkler

Head of insights, VICE Asia-Pacific

It's a pretty good idea. I think this integration is useful. Don't you agree?

Misty Stoll

Officeworks hops on voice interface bandwagon with Google Assistant integration

Read more

ok. so no RCS support? by the way, RCS is a lot bigger than 5G in terms of marketing and monetisation so y'all should be covering it.

DragoCubed

Optus goes for education with 5G network campaign

Read more

Many companies and individual merchants have shifted their major part of marketing to web marketing services Portland as it weighs fewer ...

Radiata Solutions

6 Ways to ramp up Social Media to Your Web Design

Read more

This is a unique experience! Will be interesting to talk to their managers.

Joyce Harris

​How Krispy Kreme revitalised its brand in a saturated market

Read more

I feel bad for them. It's a shame they are closed now. What do you think about it?

Lisa Deleon

Dick Smith stores set to all close by 30 April

Read more

Latest Podcast

More podcasts

Sign in