How to Think Like a CEO: The 22 Vital Traits You Need to Be the Person at the Top

How to Think Like a CEO: The 22 Vital Traits You Need to Be the Person at the Top

by D. A. Benton
How to Think Like a CEO: The 22 Vital Traits You Need to Be the Person at the Top

How to Think Like a CEO: The 22 Vital Traits You Need to Be the Person at the Top

by D. A. Benton


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Drawing on in-depth interviews, Benton identifies 22 vital traits that make a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) - the leader responsible for making decisions, guiding teams, selling ideas, managing crises and conquering the mountains before them.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780446673075
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 05/01/1999
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 692,099
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.94(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Basic Equipment

What gear does the modern climber need to make it to the top of the corporate mountain?

You can become a CEO-a chief executive officer in your career lifetime. It is not the unreachable pinnacle once reserved for those born with a silver spoon in their mouth, who went to the right school, who know the right people, the privileged group. Tomorrow's top chiefs will get there on their merit. Their-and your-entitlement will be based on the utilization of the required traits needed to operate, influence, and lead at high levels. There are no "secrets" left unearthed for the chosen to follow. You are the chosen, if you want to be one of them.

This book is for people who haven't reached their summit-yet. It lays out the equipment err, qualities-they will need to pack on their climb to the top of the corporate mountain.

Because maneuvering through various levels of a corporation is analogous to moving up a mountain, I've used mountain climbing in this book as a metaphor for learning to think like and become the person at the top. To make it to the top of a company, you must pass through tricky and scary situations, just as you would on a mountain.

To scale rocky heights, your first move must be to establish a firm footing: You must learn the ropes to overcome obstacles, move on, and take the lead. A solid foundation of vital traits gives you a substantial base from which to operate. Knowing exactly what's demanded of you gets you through problems and shoots you out ahead of others.

To get the firm footing you need, you must learnfrom those who have already reached that seemingly inaccessible pinnacle.

It's smart to see what experienced climbers know. You might be surprised to discover that you have all of the necessary gear already. Now you just need to approach the mountain and decide where to climb-and how high up to go.

To learn what experienced climbers know I went to where they are, at the top: the chief executive officers (CEOs) who have made the ascent themselves. I've picked some of the best mountaineers there are and included their experiences so you can witness the various qualities required and learn to make them your own.

You may not actually aspire to be the chief executive officer of your company, but you may still want to be the chief accountant, salesperson, administrator, or MIS person, or principal, division manager, editor, or head of whatever group you are in. With the right gear you can be.

This book is intended to give you a better understanding of the qualities that "chiefs" of organizations have and how to make them your own. Throughout the book I'll refer to actual chief executive officers and give you their perspectives because they have successfully made the climb themselves over several years and are best qualified to tell you what it takes from the very firmest of foundations.

Remember: Perhaps your current goal is not to get to the top of the hill but simply to avoid being pushed off. That's okay. (You may be more of a "hiker" than "climber" in the vernacular of this book.) To keep your job, or to move up, you still need to understand what a chief (i.e., your boss) expects from you.

As you learn the ropes you may decide it's not that difficult to stretch for the next ledge. You may want to take on the exhilarating, challenging, and usually fun route of scaling to the top. But even if you just want to do a good job at the level you are at and be rewarded for it, that alone would make this book worth reading.

Yet there is more.

If you understand how the chiefs run the show:

• You'll avoid getting fired.
• You'll get promoted more quickly.
• You'll enjoy the quality of work life you want and deserve.
• And-if you do decide you want to be the Big Boss, the CEO, someday-you will have the right equipment.

If you are working for a CEO it's important to know what makes him tick. You need to discover what his priorities are for the short term and long term. You'll want to know what he's instinctively good at as well as his blind spots.

In addition to avoiding being fired and maybe getting promoted, a main benefit to you of understanding how the CEO thinks is financial. You want your company to be a valuable business entity and to make money so you can make money. You can't afford not to know the boss, to understand how he plans to make the company more successful. You have to talk to him and ask questions. You have to read him a lot. You have to push him occasionally. It's unreasonable to think he should do that for you.... And the higher up you go, the more critical this is.

-Jerry Henry
Senior Vice President and CFO, DuPont

Important note: Most of the time I'll use "he" when referring to CEOs because they are predominantly male. But I will also use "she" occasionally, because women are progressively joining those ranks.

You'll avoid being fired.

In simplest terms, the employee who satisfies the boss keeps his job. A lot of people fail because they aren't aware of what the boss wants. If you ignore the work needs and wants of the boss, if you think he has stupid requests, if you think "that's not my job," you just might get fired.

Understanding your boss may be as simple as asking him and others around him what he values. For example, you might learn he likes "dates" attached to "tasks." Therefore you provide specific schedules of work activity with deadlines. Tell him what's been finished, and when. And what's next, when. And on and on. It's that basic.

Understanding the boss is critical to career success. When I've hit rocky patches on the job, it's often been because I didn't understand what was expected of me, and sat back and waited to be told. Now I know better. I ask, What's important to you? What's absolutely essential to getting my job done? Understanding the boss gives me confidence and clarity.

-Tammy Tierney
Editor, Kansas City Business Journal

You'll get promoted.

Bosses are always evaluating who will advance next. Top people topple from their positions overnight. Your company's leaders and your company's competitors are constantly looking to "pick off the best" and replace those who have just toppled.

Getting promoted does not require genius. It requires continued attention to details, tenacity, understanding effective chiefs, and doing a little more than the next person.

A friend of mine who works as a financial manager for a large energy company told me, "I learned this about my boss. Sometimes he helps people out financially or in some other way, he gives them a real break. But the next time he really sticks it to them. I may not like it, but at least now I understand it and I'll decide how long I'll put up with it."

You have to realize that whether your CEO moved up the ranks or was recruited into the company you work for, she got there because she fit into the culture. Understanding what she is about will help you understand what is valued in that organization.

-Carolyn Duff
President, WomenWorks, Inc., and author of When Women Work Together

You'll enjoy the quality of work life you want and deserve.

You probably want to live and survive and thrive in business, rather than just plod and toil. You probably want to greet each day with praises rather than curses. Humans who do the right stuff in life deserve such happiness.

A professional business life can be a great source of enjoyment. It produces general prosperity and helps one avoid the rather miserable state of unemployment.

Understanding the boss is just projecting yourself into how they might think. It's like you face a situation and ask yourself, How would Clint Eastwood or Beetle Bailey or the CEO handle the situation? It can be fun to think this through. The negative of that situation is that people don't come up with their own solutions, don't use their creativity, sometimes limit themselves, and play it too safe. The positive of the situation is that if they have a CEO who is the most experienced, has the most wisdom, uses the best judgment, is well equipped to lead, run, or direct the organization in the normal and abnormal course of events-well that person should be emulated. The question employees have to decide is, Is my CEO really that good?

-Gregg Miller
President, RACOM Corporation

An executive secretary I spoke with (who wished not to be named to protect the confidentiality of her boss) makes it her practice to learn what her boss values in addition to doing her job. "I know who to put through on the telephone and who not to put through. If he stays until 8:30 P.M., I stay until 8:30 P.M. I know the image he has created and how to support it. I know when to prod, when to help, when to back off. Because of his high-profile position, I took a special course on being a bodyguard so I could play a small role in protecting him, or at least spotting danger" She showed me a Polaroid photo of his desk. "This is how it looked when he left a week ago. I take a snapshot of it every time he leaves to make sure it is identical upon his return. It helps him feel organized and in control despite long absences."

How has this secretary been rewarded for her understanding of the CEO's work needs and acting on this understanding?

Not only has she kept her position over many years with regular pay increases, she got promoted to president. Her boss created a separate company for his private investments and made her president of it "because she was doing all the work anyway," he explains. Her CEO recently bought her a full-length mink coat at Christmas, and he relocated his offices to a different part of the country to better satisfy her health needs. The secretary turned mountaineer and her husband regularly have use of the CEO's beach house for weekends. She enjoys a high-quality work life.

If you do decide you want to be the Big Boss someday, you will have the right equipment.

The fact is, you need to think like a CEO long before you become one. People who make it to the top act and think like they are "number one" before they actually become number one. They've learned it's critical to adopt the view from the perch while aspiring to it. They demonstrate time and time again that one can operate within that frame of reference. Any job thoroughly understood becomes fairly simple and workable. After you become a top climber, most mysteries will become apparent to you. The purpose of this book is to make them apparent before you get there.

If you want to wear the chief's shoes someday it is a good idea to understand what he did to get them. Don't make the same mistakes; learn what he would have done differently, and do it. And sooner than later, you'll be tying your laces.

-Jeff Barens
President, The Barens Group

If in your career plans you think you will wait until you are working closer in the chain of command to corporate chiefs before you try to comprehend that world, you will have waited too long. If you conclude that it really doesn't matter if you understand the boss, that all you need to do is your job, you are wrong. If you rationalize that at your level it isn't that critical, you are incorrect. And if you reason that thinking like a chief isn't necessary until you hold the title, then you are really off target.

The problem is that employees get trapped into doing their piece or part of the work and don't see the business as a whole. The CEO has the entire entity to be concerned with. Employees have to grasp that and be able to work with it.

-Phil Wilkinson
Principal, Network Programs, Inc.

Employees mistakenly rationalize, I'm too busy doing my job. And anyway, if anyone is doing the understanding it should be my boss. If you wait for that ideal situation to happen, you may wait for a long time. A computer manufacturer accounting manager told me, "I avoid him [the CEO] like the plague. I just do my job and carry on. I wish he'd pay a little more attention to me. But he's very happy letting me alone. I notice I do the same to my subordinates. I guess we become our boss."

Occasionally I've heard someone say I don't care enough for people. That hurts me deeply. If they knew me they'd know I do care. That misunderstanding comes from some generalization that bosses aren't caring people. . . but I can understand misconceptions. When I was a young person starting with the company I'd see the boss take an hour-and-a-half lunch while I sat at my desk with a sack lunch getting a half hour. I incorrectly thought the CEO had no worries and not much to do. Now that I run this operation, I know there is not a lot of heavy lifting at the top but it's still hard work.

-Jack Lundberg
Denver Sala/Svedala Industries, Inc.

You may ask, Isn't the CEO's role and power diminishing? Aren't companies turning upside down, putting chiefs on the lowest rung instead of the highest rung of the ladder, so they truly serve their people? Don't team decisions take precedence over dictatorial decisionmaking from the top? Aren't employees supposed to be empowered by management now? And doesn't all of this mean the CEO isn't that important anymore? No. Definitely not. Not now nor in the future.

Every group of any size needs a lead person, someone who takes responsibility for making decisions, guiding teams, selling ideas, managing crises, and generally conquering the mountain before them. Paths to the top are pretty narrow. There isn't a lot of room. A lead person makes the ascent and others support him. You can be that head person if you want. It is up to you to take the responsibility.

What should an ambitious career person do to become a CEO? Understand the people above her/him. Get results.

-Lola Scobey
President, Audio-Therapy Innovations

It's a self-fulfilling prediction. You learn from chiefs about chiefs. You take on the vital traits. You stand out from the crowd of people afraid to stand out or unwilling to put the effort out. You get slotted as the leader. You forge ahead. You get to the top. You are invaluable to the rest who are also attempting the climb. Your role and power only increase.

You are the one who will win. You know that any time you fully comprehend something or someone you can better deal with it or them. My objective is to bring you up close to CEOs you wouldn't normally have access to, to unlock their mystique and any power over you. As good as you already are, you'll do better when you fully realize what they want and need. You will deal more effectively with the boss-and in time have the tools required to become the chief.

Comprehending the chief slot does not mean being artificially chummy to powerful people. It does not mean developing a friendship you can flaunt among your peers. It is not about psyching someone out or positioning yourself to manipulate or exploit. It is not bar-hopping with the boss to become a crony. The purpose is to understand the leader so you can work better with him or her, understand what he or she values, minimize problems for yourself, structure the way you work, and decide if you want the job someday.

    Simply treat the boss like your best customer-find out about him.

-Joel A. Schleicher
COO, Nextel Communications, Inc.

How to Think Like a CEO is divided into two parts. Part One will lay out the 22 Vital Traits that successful chiefs have and how to make them your own. The mystery of why some people make it to the top and some don't, when they are all equally competent in the job, is revealed to you. No one wants an unknown power presiding over them. If you follow the right path and utilize the right ropes, you'll be the one who reaches the pinnacle of power.

This book is intended to make you aware of the 22 Vital Traits so you can more confidently and quickly acquire those necessary qualities. By having a nearperfect model, you can better evaluate those you work with as well as set your own self-development objectives. As you complete chapters 3, 4, and 5 (detailing the 22 Vital Traits), you will notice clear changes in how you view yourself and how you view others.

You will learn the major and minor differences between the entrepreneurial chief and the professional manager the mountaineers of corporate America. Understanding their makeup minimizes mistakes you might make on your climb up.

To begin with you'll learn about near-perfect chiefs, then the not-so-near- perfect ones. The fact is, sometimes people who lack some of the 22 Vital Traits still succeed in scaling lofty heights. That creates an obstacle to your climb. The secret for you is not to learn the wrong lessons from the not-so-nearperfect chiefs.

Part Two of How to Think Like a CEO is for moving up. First you develop the necessary qualities of chiefs, then you have to put them into use. This means you want to know what routes other climbers took to get to the top. Succeeding chapters lay out what to expect when you make your move from the "number-two" to the "number-one" slot.

You will also get a clear view of the chiefs' jobs and what they get paid for doing them. Reading what "top mountaineers" actually do, what they want in the people around them, and how they deal with their own bosses provides you accelerated learning and insights into the world at the top.

At its best, climbing a corporate mountain is as fun, engaging, and invigorating as any activity you can be involved in. If you are unprepared, it can be a miserable disaster. With the correct information you will discover the joys of doing friendly battle with any "rockface" or obstacle presented and will be impatient to go out and test yourself again and again.


If you understand how chiefs run the show and learn to think like them before you are one you'll become one yourself sooner.

You also:
will avoid getting fired or passed over,
will get promoted more quickly, and will enjoy the quality of work life you want and deserve.

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Harvey Mackay

A road map to success.
— Author of Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive

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