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Getting inside the mind-set of a successful CEO

Neil Hughes
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In modern, fast-paced and hybrid workplace cultures, leadership is more important than ever before.

We have all observed varying approaches towards leadership, and the different styles of various successful CEOs. It is clear that there is no roadmap to be a successful CEO, rather, it takes certain mind-sets that effectively drive organisational performance. Three senior McKinsey partners wrote a book, “The Six Mind-sets That Distinguish the Best Leaders from the Rest,” offering valuable insight into the mind-sets of top performing CEOs.

What is the definition of success? McKinsey reports that top level CEOs generate nearly three times more total return to stakeholders than less-effective CEOs. Therefore, we will explore what it takes to get inside the expert mind-set of a successful CEO, reviewing how a CEO should think, learn and behave.

The six mind-sets that McKinsey outlines as vital for aspiring CEOs are set out as follows.

Direction setting is a crucial component of successful leadership, as it sets the foundation for organisational success. It is about successfully providing a vision and a destination for the organisation to work towards achieving. Establishing a compelling direction and effectively communicating the message of the same with clear expectations allows for the empowerment, accountability, and motivation of employees.

An organisation alignment mind-set ensures leaders set the tone and encourage organisational unity and collaboration, creating a high performance culture where everyone is working together to achieve shared goals. It highlights that CEOs understand and excel at both, the hard and soft skills that contribute to organisational success, inclusive of structure, people and culture. Successful leaders view both as equally important.

Successful CEOs have a mobilising leadership mind-set and understand the requirement for CEOs to embed a functional, united, and collaborative senior management team. It was noted that the performance of the senior management team, nevertheless, relies upon their ability to collaborate and trust one another. Therefore, the CEO requires the ability to motivate and inspire leaders to work together in communicating a clear and compelling vision, and momentum that motivates their teams to achieve the organisational strategy.

A board engagement mind-set refers to a leader’s ability to effectively engage with their board of directors and to build a collaborative, trusting and transparent relationship with them to drive the success of the organisation.  It entails working with the board to develop shared goals and strategies and leveraging their expertise.

Having a stakeholder connection mind-set underpins the leader’s ability to build and maintain a strong connection and relationship with all stakeholders of the organisation. This is inclusive of employees, customers, shareholders, and the wider community.

Finally, a personal effectiveness mind-set outlines a leader’s capability to manage their own performance to achieve their goals. They are focused on results, and establishing clear goals and priorities to manage their time effectively. This mind-set requires leadership self-awareness to understand their own strengths and weaknesses to improve their performance.

It is clear that leaders who excel in the different mind-sets outlined above will all have their own personal strengths and weaknesses, but all have a common focus on the value of building trust and respect with stakeholders, and ensuring strong communication and collaboration throughout the organisation. Thereby allowing successful CEOs to build a common sense of purpose and employee buy-in.