Every CEO candidate is different. But if you spend enough time analyzing candidates for a chief executive role, you’ll see five distinct profiles emerge.
Depending on the needs of your business, you might find that one type is better for your company than another. Here’s a quick overview of the five CEO archetypes, as well as some tips for determining which might be the right fit for your company.
There’s a certain mythos surrounding CEOs who have built their own businesses from the ground up. To do that successfully, an entrepreneur must be highly motivated and innovation-minded. However, one of the greatest strengths of this particular archetype is their inspirational leadership.
Of course, not all founder-CEOs are inspirational leaders. But in a company’s early days, employees often work long hours without seeing much payoff. It takes a powerful motivator to convince those employees that, in the end, all their efforts will be worth it.
An experienced founder-CEO can be an asset to your company. But keep in mind that these CEOs may come from a variety of backgrounds. Not all people who successfully start businesses can successfully run companies long-term. So before hiring a founder-CEO, take a close look at their industry experience and education.
The go-to-market-oriented CEO is someone who has successfully worked in marketing or sales before making it to the C-suite. It’s somewhat uncommon to make such a big career jump, but this kind of nontraditional background has its advantages.
More specifically, if your company already has an established chief technology officer but needs someone who can expand the sales and revenue side of the business, a go-to-market-oriented CEO can be ideal. Executives with this background can confidently sell the company to investors, interface with customers, and serve as the face of the company at events.
This type of CEO can be especially helpful for a services-oriented company. However, for a tech company, a go-to-market-oriented CEO without an extensive tech background may not be the best choice. If your CEO can’t fully understand the product you’re offering, they’ll have a hard time selling it.
You might not think of an engineer as being good CEO material. But if your company focuses on software or other technology, a technical CEO can prove to be a massive advantage.
If your CEO is an engineer or has a technical background, they will have a specific and thorough understanding of your products that a layperson simply cannot. This deep understanding has the potential to drive informed business decisions.
A CEO with expert technical knowledge will also be better equipped to select and manage the best engineers to work on your product. In the software industry, a strong, capable engineering team makes the difference between success and complete disaster, so this is no small advantage.
However, if you’re evaluating a technical CEO for your own business, remember that not everyone who knows how to develop a great product can run a company. But if your candidate has sharpened their management skills and has proven they have great business acumen, they’re worth considering.
The larger your company is, the more important management skills become. A smaller business might be able to get away with having a technical CEO who struggles to manage employees. But in a larger operation, you need someone who can keep up with a rapidly scaling company.
A finance- or operations-oriented CEO is an executive who started out as a CFO or COO before becoming CEO. A background in finance or operations can be extremely helpful for an incoming CEO, and this is especially true if they’re coming in to help a company that is struggling financially.
However, finance- or operations-oriented CEOs pose the same risk as go-to-market-oriented CEOs: If your company is built around software or another technical product, they may not be able to fully understand the product (and therefore, the kinds of people they need to hire to create that product).
That’s not to say that tech companies should automatically write these candidates off. Instead, you can get a feel for how the candidate would handle working at a tech-oriented business. Try asking questions like these:
You may be surprised — some CEOs without technical backgrounds have developed effective ways of leading very tech-oriented companies.
If you’re looking to hire a CEO for your business, you should know that successful candidates don’t necessarily need prior experience as CEOs. In many large companies, divisional general managers run their areas or divisions just like independent businesses.
As a result, these candidates have many of the skills you’d want in a successful CEO — they can manage budgets, grow revenue, and develop teams.
However, bear in mind that managing a division isn’t exactly the same as running an end-to-end business. Because the division is operating within the context of a much larger corporation, these candidates have a sort of safety net.
Before selecting a divisional general manager candidate, you’ll want to make sure that their leadership was a major factor driving their division’s success — not that the division was successful despite their poor leadership.
A CEO is so much more than a simple archetype. However, in order to find the right C-suite candidate, company leaders need to narrow their focus to the type of CEO who will be the best fit for their industry and company culture.
Choosing the right CEO archetype is a good place to start your search. If you can get an idea of a candidate’s general background and mindset, you will be better equipped to evaluate the potential CEO on their specific strengths and their ability to drive your company to further success.
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