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7 Tips to Being a Better CEO

If you never had anyone teach you how to be an effective CEO, here are 7 tips to help you powerfully play that role…

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BY David Finkel - 11 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Brian grew up in business. His dad, Ronnie, started the manufacturing firm, his mom, Marge, ran much of the administrative and financial aspects of the company, and family life revolved around the company.

Brian studied engineering and earned his degree. After college he came back home and went to work for the family business, quickly proving himself to be one of its most talented engineers. With Ronnie's tight grip on the company and Marge to back him up, the company grew sales to over $15 million per year. And then tragedy struck. Brian's dad died.

It was then that with no leadership team in place and a culture that had learned to lean heavily on Ronnie for key decisions that the company was at real risk of failure. Brian was a great engineer, but with the loss of his father he was pushed into a role of running the whole company, something for which he had no training or experience.

Brian considered selling the company for his mom. He didn't want to do anything wrong that might jeopardize her future. But he also believed in the business, and felt that with some help he could lead it through this critical transition.

That's when I first met Brian, at a business conference we were hosting in Atlanta back in 2009.

Hopefully your rise to the role of CEO was nothing like Brian's, but in one respect it likely was - you likely didn't have a mentor or role model to take you under his or her wing and teach you to be an effective CEO.

Consider this list of my best practices to be an effective CEO my attempt to give you some guidance to play your critical leadership role more effectively.

1. Get clear on the big picture

CEO's need to know the big things that will make an impact on the company, and they need to invest their best attention on improving these things.

• Who are the key client relationships that matter most?

• Which are your key team members who contribute most?

• Which sales channels make the biggest difference?

• Which cost factors most impact profitability?

• Which production (product or service) factors most limit capacity?

• Which factors most affect (positively and negatively) cash flow?

2. Don't major in minor things

Now that you know which things matter most to your company, are you consistently investing your best time and attention on your major items? If not, it's critical that you make this adjustment.

3. Your company culture and values are always major items

Culture is the invisible hand that influences your team's behavior and decisions when no one else is looking. It impacts your ability to attract and retain great talent. It limits or leverages your ability to produce amazing results. You must invest a portion of your best attention to intentionally build the culture you want.

4. Share your vision for the company with your team

What's your mission as a company? Your reason for being in business? How can you inspire and engage your team to fully buy into this mission so that work becomes a calling for them, not just a paycheck.

5. Craft your written quarterly plan of action - every quarter

Every CEO needs to help his or her company define its priorities and lay out its strategy to progress the business. A one page plan of action every quarter not only helps you do this, but to do it in a way that is action oriented, which in a small to midsize company is critical.

Here is the link to an earlier article I wrote on creating your company 1-page plan of action.

Once you've done this for a few quarters I encourage you to get your key department leaders to create their own "department" 1-page quarterly plan of action too. Not only does this help them focus on those fewer things that will make a bigger difference for the company, but it will also give you a blue print for accountability for them and their department.

6. Hold your company accountable to acting on its priorities, stated goals, and values

Your company only has so much time, talent, money and other resources. It needs to invest these in those fewer, better places that will make a real difference. It's your job as CEO to consistently hold your company accountable- yourself included - to act daily in accordance with these priorities.

7. Build and groom your leadership team

Perhaps the most important job you have as CEO is to build and develop your leadership team. Who will you eventually need on your leadership team? Who do you already have on your team? Are there any glaring holes? Any people you'll likely need to upgrade?

Obviously there is more to being a CEO than just these 7 best practices, but they are a great place to start.

So what ever happened to Brian? I happen to know that one as he's been a business coaching client now for going on eight years.

His company LH Thomson is stronger than ever. He's got a solid management team and they have grown sales and doubled profitability. And Brian, while he like the rest of us, still has more to learn, has grown into an effective CEO who leads an incredible company.

Now it's your turn.

If you enjoyed the ideas I shared, then I encourage you to download a free copy of my newest book, Build a Business, Not a Job. Click here for full details and to get your complimentary copy.