Anatomy of a 21st Century CEO


Kate Benson | November 17, 2011

Kate Benson, managing director of Martens & Heads!, explains why the archetype of a CEO is no longer necessarily a man occupying the corner office, with decades of experience under his belt

Kate Benson, managing director of Martens & Heads!, explains why the archetype of a CEO is no longer necessarily a man occupying the corner office, with decades of experience under his belt.

The image of the model CEO has changed greatly over the first decade of the twenty-first century. No longer is there an exact formula to describe the anatomy of perfection in a leader.

The archetype of a CEO isn’t necessarily a man occupying the corner office, with decades of experience under his belt. Look at Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, David Karp of Tumblr, or Twitter’s Jack Dorsey – three CEOs and founders all under age 35 (if that isn’t enough to make you blink, Zuckerberg is under 30, Karp, a mere 25 years-old). Anyone who discounts this new CEO model, must adjust their thinking. As of September 2011, Zuckerberg was reportedly worth $17.5 Billion – not a bad figure to associate with your company.

What’s more than mere youth breaking through, more women than ever hold CEO titles in Fortune 500 companies. Who are the CEOs of Yahoo, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, Zerox or Avon? All women.

Top Leader Attributes

The attributes of a top leader or executive are often hard to define, as leadership is situational. Dependent on our world’s variant position politically, economically or socially, your skills as a leader will be tested, and will evolve, based on the times we live in. As the context of your business changes, the role of the CEO will alter under this framework, while still remaining genuine in ability.

It’s important for a CEO to have the authority to lead, but also the emotional intelligence to be self-aware. Not every highly skilled or erudite individual will be able to lead once promoted to such high position. Many individuals who are less than extraordinary soar in positions of leadership because they have something many others don’t. Of course the threshold capabilities of intelligence and skill are required for executive roles, but there is another type of intelligence that gives a leader the ability to be great – and that type of smarts, is more emotionally based. Social skills, empathy, motivation, and the ability to be aware and to regulate yourself, will drive you forward as a leader.

The Defining Differences

Which brings me to the real question, what are the inherent differences that define a successful CEO? I have been lucky to meet hundrends of chief executives over the past few years and I have developed a few theories.

1. Vision – the ability to push your company, employees and your business beyond where it could go without you.

2. Empathy – the emotional intelligence associated with recognizing and understanding others’ feelings.

3. Authority – the power to detmine, or settle issues within your company, controlling and commanding a siutation.

4. Self-Assessment – the ability to recognize and acknowledge the positive and negative attributes of your personalitiy and actions.

5. Motivation – giving encouragement and providing fellow employees with the incentive to improve, excel and exceed their performances.

6. Authenticity – having a genuine disposition, and allowing employees to recognize this human attribute, even if it shows flaws.

Risk to Grow

A CEO needs to take personal risks, as without this ability, your growth from a personal and organizational standpoint will be stunted. Even if you happen to fail, at least you’ll learn from the error – or who knows, there could be a disruptive opportunity that arises out of your blunder. How else do you think computer drives have continued to shrink since the ’80s? Many innovations were initally considered errors.

It’s important to recognize these opportunities – even the unsettling ones that are rejected because they seem too outrageous for today’s market – whereas tomorrow, they’ll most likely not only be accepted, but already in the process of reevaluation and modernization.

Let’s look at one of the greatest businessmen of our lifetime – the late Steve Jobs, who definitively altered society. He did not exhibit many of the qualities of the typical CEO yet his achievements are unparalleled and his innovations unrivaled. Like many ‘techies’ he was a rebel, an artist and a master of imagination and invention.

Like Jobs, and other great leaders who came before him and will undoubtedly follow, be a change agent, adjust, and remember to step back to see what others can’t – opportunity is to be found in the margins, the unseen details, even in your own mistakes.