What makes an extraordinary CEO?

Aspiring to be a CEO? First, understand what makes one extraordinary.

Good CEOs are everywhere. Extraordinary CEOs are rarer. So, what’s the difference and how do those who are working towards a top job take steps now to make sure they’re a standout CEO when the time comes?

Good CEOs are everywhere.

Good CEOs are everywhere.

Extraordinary CEOs, on the other hand, can be more difficult to come by. It takes the perfect combination of delivering results and inspiring stakeholders in order to make an enduring mark in the top job.

When we work with executives who are climbing the ladder, we always ask them: what type of CEO do you want to be?

The answer, of course, is extraordinary. No one wants a CEO job to merely do it adequately. Therefore, it follows that anyone who wants to one day be a CEO one day – whether they’re early in their career or already in front line management – needs to understand what sets one apart and start working towards these goals now.

What makes a stand-out CEO?

When we look at what attributes someone needs to become a senior leader, it always comes back to the same core skills. These include remaining calm under pressure, being able to make difficult decisions, having excellent communication skills and healthy self-awareness. As well as this, senior leaders are always learning, sharing ideas, and developing those around them.

Does this mean that everyone who possesses these skills will be an extraordinary CEO? Not necessarily.

You see, the very best CEOs not only have these skills, but use them in a way that influences people, whether that be within their organisation, with their customers or the general public. The main expectation of a CEO is to make sure the company performs financially, but to do this they need to ensure all these other factors fall into place. Factors like building and maintaining customer loyalty, compliance with corporate responsibility, and keeping employees happy. And if a CEO nails these, then they should cycle around to financial results.

Let’s look at these in more detail – and how you can start working on them now.

Understands and respects customers

It goes without saying that every CEO needs to have a deep understanding of their customers; the issues they face, their pain points and the value their company’s products or services provide to them.

An extraordinary CEO knows that in today’s world, the needs of this customer can change very quickly. So, they’re always trying to stay one step ahead, and creating a culture where the whole business does the same. Their customers love them for it and will give them loyalty in return.

If you’re seeking a CEO role, make sure you are always thinking about how to nurture your customers. It’s a process that never stops.


The CEO should be a major enhancement to the company brand itself. Standout CEOs have personal brands that align with that of the business, which they can then leverage to make the company brand stronger.

What’s a strong personal brand? Simply, what you stand for and how you project this to others.

A CEO is required to do this all the time, from shareholder briefings to employee updates, to conference presentations to board meetings.

If you want to become an extraordinary CEO, use social media to position yourself as a thought leader and engage with other important commentators. This will help develop your personal brand, executive presence and reputation long before the CEO opportunities come knocking.

Creates a good impression with employees

As we’ve said before, a truly great executive will inspire others to do their jobs, not do it for them. And as CEO, they are responsible for the mental and physical wellbeing of all their employees.

Culture comes from the top; a good CEO keeps employees happy enough, but the best CEOs inspire those who work under them, creating a company culture where people are motivated, happy, and deliver results. An inclusive place where people feel supported and valued in their careers.

Want to become an extraordinary CEO? Look at how you interact with those who you manage. See how they react to you, to your leadership, whether you can communicate with them easily and listen to their concerns. Embrace their cultural and other differences and varied working styles. Be self-aware in interactions with others, particularly employees.

Earns the implicit trust from board and shareholders

A CEO of course reports to both their shareholders and board, and their relationship with both is a key indicator.

Firstly, the board relies on the CEO to develop and implement a strategy that delivers on the company’s objectives and to report any events which may have an impact upon this. In turn, they need the board to sign off on their plans. Every CEO has to have a strong working relationship with their board to ensure this process of delegation moves smoothly. An extraordinary CEO, however, has the full and implicit trust of the board.

Then there’s the shareholders – whether it’s a publicly listed or a private company, it’s important for the CEO to ensure shareholders feel they are being spoken and listened to in the way they deserve. This does not necessarily mean doing everything shareholders want – sometimes it’s important for a CEO to think of longer-term strategic goals – but communicating with shareholders while at the same time balancing other stakeholders is a must.

So, if you’re interested in being an extraordinary CEO, ensure you learn how to manage up, communicate with and handle all your key stakeholders. Project your ideas in a way that ensures buy-in.  

Has a genuine commitment to social responsibility and sustainability

Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) has come a long way in the last 20 years, as has a desire from customers, shareholders and the general public to see companies exhibit a genuine commitment to sustainability and purchase from brands that uphold their personal values.

A good CEO needs to take charge of these initiatives, from developing their ideas, to overseeing their implementation to ensuring their adoption throughout the organisation.

However, an extraordinary CEO can demonstrate that they are really behind initiatives, rather than merely paying lip service.

If you’re aiming to be an extraordinary CEO, then now is the time to be forging the issues on which you want to take a stand and participating in activities like volunteering programs. It’s going to be easier to demonstrate your commitment to an issue if you’ve already been doing it for years.

Delivers excellent results

Last but certainly not least is the CEO needs to align all these factors in order to deliver. As mentioned earlier, financial performance is the number one factor that makes a CEO successful. However, if they if they get everything else right then they have an excellent chance of making financial targets. In other words, it’s a cycle.

The board and shareholders trust their strategy, employees are motivated and the company is acting in a way that is responsible. And, the CEO has made tough decisions and juggled the many demands of the role, all whilst maintaining their self-awareness and humility throughout. If all these pieces are in place, then results should follow.

Not an easy task for everyone. But then again, not everyone is extraordinary CEO material.

Are you serious about moving forward in your executive career? Our executive career coaching puts you on a strong path towards your goals. Contact us for more information. Or, download our free guide, The 21 steps you can take now to set you up to become a future CEO.

Hunton Executive can help you understand what skills are important to become an extraordinary leader.

Contact Hunton Executive to understand more about our specialised executive and board director coaching programs designed to transform your perspective, your career, and your life.  


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