Are CEOs born or made? According to entrepreneur-turned-top venture capitalist Ben Horowitz, most of the complex skills needed to excel are drummed into leaders through years of experience.
Likening demanding CEO capabilities, such as giving difficult feedback, to learning the unnatural motion of lifting your back foot first in boxing, he claims “it generally takes years for a founder to develop the CEO skill set.” To sum up, Horowitz insists CEOs are made, not born.
Becoming a CEO doesn’t happen by accident. It begins first with the plan and passion to lead a company that aligns with your values. It often includes creating a strategic career plan for yourself to gather the necessary experience and knowledge to assume the top spot.
With all that said, doing an internal audit of your skills is the best place to start.
Here are 5 signs that you are CEO material:
You inspire and motivate others.
Beyond being a strong individual contributor, you achieve results by partnering and collaborating with others. People get excited about the work from your passion and dedication. It’s infectious. Your team is invested in the work which drives great results and keeps employees engaged and happy.
You’re confident but humble.
You admit you don’t have all the answers and are open-minded and driven to find the best answers even if they aren’t your own. You admit your mistakes and allow others to learn from their mistakes as well. People rise to the occasion and show up doing their best work as a result.
Angela Sebaly, co-founder and CEO of Personify Leadership and author of The Courageous Leader, adds that humble leaders are focused on the big picture of mission and team rather than themselves. According to Sebaly, ‘Leaders with humility engage us and give us a sense of identity and purpose.’
You’re thinking ahead.
The best CEOs are visionaries for the organizations they lead. “It’s not just trying to figure out what the trends are and jumping on those, it’s being a thought leader,” says Franklin. Another critical component of being a thought leader is the ability to translate your visions into concrete actions that employees within your organization can take.
You tend to get obsessed.
Some call this quality passion. Others refer to it as the focus. But whatever term you want to use, being a great CEO requires the ability (if not an inborn compulsion) to latch onto interesting questions or problems, shut out distractions, and work relentlessly until you have a solution.
As a young programmer, Bill Gates, for instance, was famed for working at his keyboard until he nodded off, still sitting up. When he woke, he simply looked up, oriented himself for a few seconds, and began working away again. GoPro CEO Nick Woodman pursued his dream of a better surf video obsessively, through months of intense experimentation.
Perhaps Dropbox founder Drew Houston described this quality best, using the metaphor of a tennis ball. “The tennis ball is about finding the thing you’re obsessed with,” he said. “The most successful people and successful entrepreneurs I know are all obsessed with solving a problem that really matters to them. I use the tennis ball for that idea because of my dog, who gets this crazy, obsessed look on her face when you throw the ball for her.”
You can tell a captivating story.
You want to run a business, not write a hit TV show, so why is the ability to tell a great story so important to success as a CEO? Because humans are renowned for their imperviousness to logic (just look at basically any political discussion, if you need proof). If you want to change minds and convince people to follow you, you’re going to need to appeal to emotion. And nothing arouses our emotions as much as a great tale.