6 Winning Mindsets for Any CEO

Few positions are as intensely demanding as that of CEO. Success in this role comes partially from experience and particular skills. But that’s not all — an executive’s mindset can go a long way toward helping (or hurting) their performance and the performance of the company overall.

Whether you’re a board member trying to select a new executive or a CEO yourself, take a look at these six key mindsets shared by business leaders across industries.

1. Success Has Many Metrics

Every CEO dreams of running a successful business. And while setting goals is admirable, aiming too high can be discouraging for employees at every level. When the CEO sets unachievable goals, the rest of the company often doesn’t see the point in trying — there’s no way they can hit the chosen target, so they figure they’ll save themselves the effort.

Great CEOs are great motivators, and one of the best motivational strategies is to reframe the company’s reference point for what success means. 

For example, if a CEO says the company should aim to be number one in its industry, that is (in most cases) an unrealistic goal. Unless the company is a major player and has an actual chance of becoming number one, this isn’t an ideal goal to set.

However, if the CEO encourages the company to try to improve profit margins by a certain (reasonable) percentage, employees will recognize this as an achievable goal. Because this metric of success is closer, there’s a better chance that employees will work hard to achieve it.

2. Look at the Big Picture

It’s easy to get caught up in little details, especially if you’re the chief executive of a business. However, in order to make sure those little details serve the company’s ultimate good, it’s also necessary to regularly shift the focus to the big picture.

Of course, “big picture” is a vague term, especially when you’re dealing with something as complex as a company. Here are a few examples of big-picture concepts a CEO might choose to focus on:

  • Pre-planning for potential crises
  • Succession planning for key roles
  • Company culture’s evolution over time
  • Whether the company’s current performance reflects its mission and values

It doesn’t do much good if a CEO just ponders these concepts alone. It’s often a good idea to discuss them with the board of directors. That way, the board can weigh in and offer ideas, and the CEO’s authority isn’t compromised.

3. Talent Should Match Value

Every company has a handful of employees who go above and beyond. That’s not a bad thing, but these high performers often get stuck doing more than their fair share of work. Many of them will realize that their pay doesn’t reflect the value they give to the company, and they’ll either leave or consciously scale back their efforts.

However, when a CEO takes on the mindset that talent should be matched with value, the company can be restructured in a way that makes things happen. With this kind of restructuring, the first step is to look closely to see which roles (and not necessarily the people in those roles) add the most value to the company.

The next step is to identify the people who give the most to the company and then put those people in the most valuable roles. It might seem like an elaborate process. But with this mindset shift, top performers are compensated fairly, and the CEO doesn’t have to worry about whether high-priority work will get done right.

4. Dynamics Matter

The capabilities of individual employees are important. However, teams that work well together are almost twice as likely to deliver a financial performance above the median. 

When a CEO adopts the mindset that both individual performance and group dynamics matter, they’ll be well on their way to building more effective teams. As a bonus, when team members work well together, they usually find the workplace more enjoyable.

So how does a CEO go about forming these effective teams? It’s all about balance. For instance, when the CEO evaluates a particular management team, they may find that they need to remove a member who performed poorly but was well-liked.

That decision seems logical enough, but it might seem strange that many CEOs would also remove someone who consistently performed well but was rude and generally disliked. In the long run, it tends to be more profitable to have a cohesive team — even if not all of its members are top performers.

5. Everyone Has Biases, and Biases Can Be Unlearned

No one is immune to cognitive bias. However, cognitive biases can often lead to disappointing performance or missed opportunities. Some CEOs might be tempted to say that because bias is inevitable, there’s nothing that can be done to remedy it.

But biases can be unlearned. When CEOs understand this important truth, they can start taking steps to reduce the impact bias has on business decisions. Here are some possible strategies:

  • Implementing bias training programs
  • Appointing a contrarian team to challenge decisions
  • Assembling diverse teams to benefit from different inputs
  • Identifying and mitigating potential risks before starting a project
  • Conducting the vanishing options test (making themselves create new ideas by imagining no current proposals exist)

There’s no way to completely eliminate bias from business decisions. But if a CEO adopts the mindset that everyone can challenge and reduce their biases, the result is an overall happier, healthier workplace.

Success Is (Partially) in Your Mind

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that success for a CEO is 100% mindset. There’s a lot that goes into this challenging role. Mindset might not be all of it, but intentionally adopting specific mindsets might make it easier to reach certain goals.

If a CEO is willing to consider multiple metrics of success, take a look at the bigger picture, match talent to value, maximize the benefits of good team dynamics, and encourage the company as a whole to commit to unlearning biases, they’ll be better equipped to successfully guide the company to new heights.