Great CEOs are Down on The Basics

There are hundreds of advice columns for CEOs, so let’s start this one with an acknowledgment of how CEOs got where they are in the first place.

Chief executives are bright, fact-based big-picture thinkers who have an innate ability to tune in to what other people are thinking, feeling and doing and to turn that instinct (and knowledge) to their company’s advantage. Those are the basic attributes.

Business woman and CEO

CEOs don’t overlook the small details, but they don’t get hung up on them, either. They are big-picture thinkers, which allows them to focus on long-term company goals.

In so many words, a company can hire all the detail-oriented people they need. Every job can be divided and sub-divided into smaller and smaller and more manageable pieces. You might call these job descriptions. So, while a CEO might pride himself or herself in understanding the minutia of an obscure job in the company, CEOs are hired to focus on the big picture.

But CEOs are also people-oriented. You might even say that if you can put people and their basic need for accomplishments both in the same room, you can be a good CEO – provided their accomplishments are streamlined to mirror the company’s mission, that is.

Here are a few of the best ideas for CEOs, even if they seem to be a bit on the quirky side.


As described in Alex Malley’s The Naked CEO, there is nothing a CEO does has quite as much impact as simply remembering people’s names. With all they have on their plate, a good CEO can cross a room at a crowded board meeting and walk up to a secretary they only meet once briefly a year ago and say, “How are you, Agnes? And how’s your son, Brandon? And your husband, Jim? Has he fixed the hook on his golf swing, yet?”

CEOs can remember names and obscure references to almost to the point that people think that CEO has been thinking about them constantly since the last time they met.

Following trends

No question about it, CEOs need to understand the trends for their business and their industry. Of course, if the company is a restaurant chain, consumer tastes and spending habits would be important to understand.

But good CEOs need to take this further. Not only do they need to follow the stock trends for their industry, but they need to follow stock trends for supply companies, end-point consumer companies and others.

All companies are, essentially, in the middle of something. Behind them are the supply companies and in front of them are consumer trends. A CEO of a restaurant chain, in other words, should understand how chicken farmers and grain farmers are doing, but they also should look ahead and understand the driving habits of their customers.

Facts and data

The small details that CEOs should understand is the small details of the data that drives their decision making.

CEOs should be the experts at the data that supports the decisions that need to be made. Is their data to support a change in product design? Is their data to support further investment in research and development? Is their data that supports a hunch or is there not?

There is, of course, an endless tidal wave of data out there on consumer habits, stock trends, supply chain issues, you name it. But if CEOs are to be big-picture experts, then they should be the masters of the data supports their decisions.

Mission statements

Every business needs a mission statement and every 10 years or so, every company needs to revise that statement so that it reflects the goals of the company.

A company, of course, is made up of board members, executives, managers, support staff and production workers. When it comes to a mission statement, every person in the company, right down to the most overlooked company employee, needs to be consulted.

Can you define your company’s mission in 10 words or less? Even huge companies, like Ford Motor Company, have been able to do that. Quality is job one was Ford’s mission statement many years and it encompassed every worker at Ford. Board members, executives, designers all aimed for quality. Union production workers were focused on jobs. The aim was to be the top automotive company in terms of sales and revenue in the country. In four words: Quality is job one. It said it all.

Without a mission, that includes everybody, a company either flounders or finds itself divided. I was in a hospital a few years back and even the security guards and the high-school drop outs that delivered food trays to my room were on the same page as the nurses and the doctors. I can’t quite figure out how they did that, but it was a remarkable achievement.

Get everyone on one page and you’ll will guarantee one repeat customer: Me. A CEO under one roof who can get everyone working together – that’s a CEO I can respect.


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