How to Be an Exceptional CEO?

How to Be an Exceptional CEO?

Many leaders desire to be an exceptional CEO, whether they are at Fortune 100 companies or startups.  Should they copy behaviors or build underlying structure?  Is there a time table?  Are IQ, EQ and Behavior tools enough?  What is difference between how to be a CEO and how to be an exceptional CEO?  Recently, McKinsey released its CEO study on what makes a CEO “exceptional.” Let’s review its 3 key findings and explore what takes to be an exceptional CEO or how to be a great CEO. In the meantime, give yourself a quick self-evaluation.

  1. Come in from the outside
  2. Change the strategy within the first 2 years.
  3. Reshuffle the management team AFTER the first 2 years, and balance how much change the institution can absorb.

This is one path how to be a CEO.  Although the path may not fit you, it is good to know the underlying structure and empower yourself if suitable.

What Takes to Be an Exceptional CEO?

1. Come in from the outside?
Not everyone needs to come from outside, for example, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and GE CEO Jeffery Immelt.  Both have transformed their businesses.  The key here is how to keep a fresh and objective view and minimize attachments to old glory and routines, which is a part of human nature management. We have found that unable to do so has stopped many CEOs in our leadership study and Fortune 1000 CEO study.  I have paid a heavy price here myself.

How do you do here?  You can take a quick leadership quiz

2+3.  Change the strategy within the first 2 years. Reshuffle management AFTER the first 2 years?
Have you wondered what if an organization cannot afford the 2 years to warm up?  For example, Alan Mullaly joined Ford Motor in 2006 when Ford was on edge of bankruptcy.  Jeffery Immelt became the CEO of GE 4 days before 911 attack hit GE badly.  Regardless where they came from, neither had 2 years to warm up their institutions.  Let’s explore what takes to develop the strategy and translate it into effective action in a timely manner.

4. What Stops Leaders from Being an Exceptional CEO?
After assessing hundreds of CEOs and non-CEOs from different sizes of institutions, we have found the following:

  • Miss the big picture due to personal needs, past successes, weak abstract thinking, poor strategy, etc.   If it does not start right, it is hard to turn it right later.
  • To our surprise, most leaders lack deep human knowledge and subsequently fail to task talent properly.
  • Lack leadership styles to inspire and influence others and win hearts.
  • Poor conflict management  due to not only people skills, but also leaders’ unfairness and missing the big picture.
  • Poor risk-taking, which limits institution’s opportunities, resources and resilience to failures.
  • Poor learning management for self and team, which will impact change management and strategy execution.
  • Low Adversity Quotient, which cause some leaders to give up too soon.
  • Insufficient body energy to keep up with needs and poor stress management (poor health).

All the above elements require not only IQ, EQ, learning Q (LQ), but also Adversity Q, Public Influence Q, Health Q.  How the 6Q work together just like how human muscles work together in body movements.  Industries, stages of business, status of the team and others can add, modify, or delete the required elements.   An exceptional CEO need to be ready for the worst.

5. The Difference between How to Be an Exceptional CEO vs How to Be a CEO

The difference between how to be a CEO and how to be an exceptional CEO is significant– an average CEO can be extraordinary in some areas and certain process, not almost all areas and all processes, especially learning and the health of their Ego.  Today, we can identify the “missing software” and strengthen leadership rapidly.

On the other hand, all 6Qs can interact with one another.  For example, IQ and EQ can lose their power due to poor AQ and HQ, which is why IQ, EQ, LQ and behavior tools cannot solve all issues.  Being cool in the storm makes a leader unforgettable.  Being able to manage team’s mental health often can win CEO extra team devotion and social credits.

In addition, each element above involves a lot of underlying work.  For example, “Focus on the Big Picture” involves not only decision-making quality, but also industrial insights, rules of games (business, society, and government), leaders’ health of Ego, innovation, resilience, and others.  Most people understand the technical part (IQ) but miss the rest.   Whether a leader can focus on the big picture is behavior.  Decision-making, knowledge, health of Ego, innovation, resilience, and others are the underlying structure that will shape the behavior.  However, many institutions either categorize leaders based on their behaviors today or waste time on secondary behaviors.

For further analysis and case studies, please read Can Behavior and EQ alone Build a Level 5 Leader and What Stop Leaders from Good to Great. 
How well do you do at each part?  Take a quick quiz

How to be a CEO is a part of corporate leadership development.   The traditional approach cannot develop leaders efficiently, which is why a recent Deloitte survey found that only 13% of companies are building effective global leaders.   To personalize development is one key.   Here are other keys to optimize corporate leadership development.

Speed, Results & Power 

First, Today Is NOT Tomorrow.  Not every leader has what they “should.”  Instead of evaluating their behavior today, we should explore the underlying structure and find the “missing software.”  Without the supporting underlying structure, today’s behavior WILL NOT last tomorrow.  The tools are often beyond IQ, EQ and behavior alone.

Second, catch the development needs of a leader before “the 360 degree” and make wise investments because NOT all issues have quick solutions, for example, talent type and pathological Ego.  There is no one tool for all issues; therefore, we work with the best.

Furthermore, many “intractable issues” are due to improper tools.  For example, use IQ and EQ tools to target issues related to LQ, AQ and HQ.  By getting to the root causes with the right tools, we often can save 50% of the time and discover fast solutions to 30-40% “intractable issues.”   Time is money.  Efficiency is life.   I wish everyone can see that.

After years of researches, we have found that building exceptional leaders is the most efficient way to strengthen society.  How to be a CEO is almost the same as how to be a level 5 leader— pursue a big future instead of personal and build enduring greatness.

In summary, you want to know not only how to be a CEO, but how to be an exceptional CEO:
1. Identify your “missing software before “the 360 degree,” which are often beyond IQ, EQ and Behavior tools.  The difference can be to do damage control or save 50% of time and turn 30-40% “impossible” possible efficiently.
2. Install the tools as smoothly as possible.  The difference can be weeks vs months or months vs years.
3. Integrate learning with practices.  The difference here can be knowledge vs action.

The right approach means more when you are a “underdog” who needs to win unfair competitions.   It is easier to score higher, faster and better than to be frustrated about “justice” although you should never give it up.   General job exposure and self-discovery are often too general and time consuming.  These days, speed and results determine the rise and falls of businesses and CEOs.

If the 6Q approach new to you, consider read more CEO case studies in the book What Stop Leaders from Good to Great.  Do not let your competitors get ahead of you.   Contact us with your needs even if your issues is impossible to anyone else.

About the Author 
Bin Yang is the author of What Stop Leaders from Good to Great, and the Managing Director of The Prince Synergy (, a leading consulting firm that focuses on building exceptional leaders to strengthen society and solves the hardest issues in leadership and performance that no one else can.

If you’d like to learn how to empower yourself beyond IQ and EQ, consider reading the life stories in the book.  The Prince Synergy customizes most of its classes and programs based on the Executive 6Q Assessment results.  Webinars, free mini assessments and group classes are also available.  For more information or to schedule an interview, lecture, or appointment, please contact 310-668-1828.