When you hire a CEO, you’re not just looking for someone who can run your company — you’re looking for someone who can make it more successful.
The best CEOs are passionate about their work, have great management skills, and are good at building teams that work well together. There are many ways to find out whether someone is right for the job.
In this guide, we’ll discuss important factors to consider and the most effective ways to screen candidates so you can find a CEO who is right for your organization, regardless of whether you’re searching for a healthcare CEO, a private equity CEO, a technology CEO, or any other industry-specific leader.
The CEO is the most important person in any company. While it’s easy to fill a vacancy, making the right decision can be challenging. Why? Because a CEO must be able to adapt to market changes, lead an entire organization, and motivate employees.
How do you find this rare breed?
Start by defining your needs and goals.
Your first step is to examine what you want from your new leader. Do you need someone with deep industry experience or someone who has led startups through a crisis? Is there something specific that makes a candidate stand out from other applicants? If so, make sure your recruiter knows about it.
While there are many different types of CEOs, some common factors are more likely to make someone successful as an executive leader. A good CEO has:
An excellent CEO will envision where their company will be in five or ten years. They can see opportunities for growth within their industry and have the ability to develop a plan for achieving that vision and executing it effectively.
This effectiveness includes being able to communicate the plan well so employees understand it clearly and buy into it wholeheartedly.
The best CEO will get people aligned behind the strategy so the organization can move forward on it together as one team. You need someone who can lead others through difficult times and can also celebrate successes with them when appropriate.
Great CEOs are made, not born. In fact, the best CEOs often come from unlikely backgrounds. They might have started in sales or operations or even a completely different industry. Their skills and knowledge have been hard-won by time spent in the trenches.
No matter their beginnings, look for candidates who now have experience leading companies. You want someone who has been there before and knows how things work. A CEO with previous experience will know what it takes to build a great team and will get right to work inspiring employees to do their best every day.
Look for someone who can take your company in new directions and make it better than it was before — someone who has a fresh perspective and isn’t afraid of failure as long as they learn something along the way.
The best CEOs often come from outside the company and have an innovative approach to things. Their way of looking at problems is different than that of people who have spent their careers within the same organization. A pioneering mindset is exactly what your business needs right now.
CEOs are responsible for setting the tone for the entire organization. A bad CEO can bring down an entire company, but a good one can make it thrive.
This may sound like an obvious point, but it’s surprising how often companies choose CEOs who don’t fit this description. The CEO must be able to inspire staff members to do their best work every day, not just when there’s an emergency or a deadline looming.
Great CEOs know how to:
When you’re looking for a new CEO, effective communication skills are chief among the factors you need to consider. After all, you don’t want a leader who can’t speak well or who is uncomfortable in front of crowds.
Communication skills include the ability to speak clearly, concisely, and with authority. They also include the ability to listen carefully and respond appropriately. A great communicator will not only inspire confidence but also convey knowledge and experience to others.
Speaking well in front of crowds is not the only facet of good communication skills. The ability to communicate extends into every corner of business operations. If someone can’t impart information clearly, they won’t be able to lead effectively or motivate employees.
A good communicator has the ability to articulate vision and goals as well as to provide feedback on any progress made.
What makes an outstanding CEO? The same factors that make any leader great.
They have strong values and ethics, they are committed to their people and the organization they lead, and they have a strong vision for the future. They are innovative and creative, they embrace (not just tolerate) change, they are excellent communicators, and they earn their employees’ trust.
But there is one characteristic that is perhaps the most important of all: the desire to win. A CEO must be driven by a passion for success, not just for money or power. They must have an inner drive to constantly improve the organization — whether through innovation or cost-cutting or more effective processes.
In short, the best CEOs are always looking for ways to make their companies better today than they were yesterday. Look for a candidate who is full of good ideas along with solid experience, and your careful search will pay off.
Our hands-on CEO recruiters and executive search experts have experience working with private, public, pre-IPO, and non-profit organizations. Clients are typically $50 million in revenue to Fortune 1000
companies or have assets between $500 million to $15 billion.
Successful placements span the entire C-Suite and include CEOs, Chief Operating Officers, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Sales Officers, CISOs, Chief Marketing Officers, vice presidents sales, human resources, general counsel, and other director-level leadership roles.
Cowen Partners delivers 3X more qualified candidates than the competition. Through our proven retained executive search process, we find, vet, and deliver the top 1% of candidates for positions across the C-suite. Our process works for all initiatives (including diversity recruiting), as well as all industries, including (but not limited to) technology, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, real estate, financial service, private equity, and more.
Check out our industry-leading resources to see why Cowen Partners is a leader among the best executive search firms in New York City, Anchorage, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Richmond, Nashville, Louisville, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and beyond: