7 attributes of highly effective tech company CEOs

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

4. Communicate a Clear Vision

Bill Gates stands out among recent CEOs for his impact regarding vision. He clearly wasn't always right, but when Microsoft almost missed the Internet, his personal efforts got the company on track-and Netscape, the firm that almost displaced Microsoft, is now a distant memory. Netscape's Jim Barksdale wasn't a technology visionary. All he could seem to imagine was how to make a bad clone of Microsoft. In the end, that wasn't a great strategy.

Having a vision that customers, employees and investors can understand is as critical to success as a navigator is to a ship traveling long distances. If you don’t know where you're going, you absolutely won't get there-except by accident. Basing the success of your company on a fortunate accident is rarely a best practice. Someone has to have a vision. If that's lacking, the company will flounder.

5. Think Strategically About the Future

Companies are expected to last forever. IBM was one of the very few tech companies designed to measure its life in centuries. In recent times, Michael Dell stands out-first by making acquisitions that positioned his company against a strategic future, then through his efforts to take Dell private so it could be reformed around his view of where the world will be in the next decade.

Mark Hurd, in contrast, was a tactical thinker. Financial analysts loved this, but HP fired Hurd because actions such as eliminating most of the R&D department showed he wasn't thinking about the firm's future. As a result, HP after Hurd is in the midst of a tough turnaround. It's easy to focus on quarterly returns and keep the financial analysts happy, but that can lead to decisions that damage a firm's long-term viability. HP has been the poster child for this.

6. Take Care of Your Employees

The huge disparity between CEOs and the rank and file can tempt them to treat employees as if they are unimportant. Over the years, the teachings of human resources visionaries such as Abraham Maslow and Frederick Hertzberg have largely been forgotten.

Many companies spiral through layoff after layoff until there's really nothing left. Sun Microsystems was the ‘perfect’ example of this; here was a company that seemed to completely lose its way and lose the support and loyalty of its employees in the process.

Meg Whitman's HP, in contrast, employs one of the most capable and strategic HR directors in the market. Tracey Keogh, HP's executive vice-president of HR, is almost legendary in her unique, strategic efforts to return HP to a company that effectively cares for, mentors and develops its employees, optimising that asset and recreating a more powerful ‘HP way’. CEOs too often focus on their compensation, expensive cars and houses and unique benefits, forgetting that, without their employees, they can't succeed.

7. Above All, Never Forget You're the Face of the Company

The last key skill for any CEO is realising that she's the face of the company. The self-promotion that helped get her the job is obsolete once she gets it. Her success switches is no longer directly tied to what she does; it's tied to the accomplishments of the executives and employees who report to her. IBM's Ginni Rometty, one of the few CEOs who was formally trained for the job and predecessor, Sam Palmisano, stand out as experts in this final skill.

A lot of CEOs don't make the switch from superstar to diplomat, from personal cheerleader to company avatar. Those who do typically master most of the six rules highlighted above. Not only are they more successful, they tend to enjoy the job more. Those who don't end up paranoid and help create a work environment filled with paranoia, where everyone's a rival out to get your job and willing to do almost anything to get it. That's why I believe strongly in CEO 101.

Next time you invest in, buy from or work for a company, consider these rules and see if they apply positively to the person running the firm. If they don't, it may be wiser to short the company, work for someone else and avoid buying from it, as it's likely you'll regret taking the alternative paths.

More innovative leadership thinking:

-Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance and Security.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia.

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