10 Myths About Successful CEOs
If I could change one thing about the digital age, I would definitely walk back the whole notion of user-generated content. The vast majority of it is nothing but popular nonsense propagated by pageview-hungry opportunists out to make a buck. At best, it’s feel-good fluff. At worst, it’s complete B.S.
The problem is that people take it seriously. They think some silly habits, hacks, and overhyped fads are going to make them successful entrepreneurs. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my experience, real business leaders don’t pay attention to any of that stuff, especially these myths about CEOs:
They’re extroverted leaders.
If anything, we’re living in the golden age of introverts and geeks. Nobody would ever mistake the likes of Larry Page, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or Charles Schwab for extroverts. The very notion that CEOs should be rockstar leaders who exude executive presence is nothing but a myth.
CEOs don’t just drop out of the sky into cushy corner-office chairs. Most start with zilch and work their butts off for everything they achieve. Granted, some do come from money but not the majority. If anything, growing up with adversity gives you an advantage.
They’re social networkers.
The overwhelming majority of Fortune 500 CEOs have absolutely no social-media presence whatsoever and those who do post and tweet don’t do it much. That’s just the data. Anecdotally, all the CEOs I know are way too busy running their companies to spend much time on social networks.
They covet their personal brand.
Whenever I tell people that real executives couldn’t care less about their personal brands, someone inevitably brings up Mark Cuban or Donald Trump. After you’ve made your first billion you can self-promote all you like, but that’s not going to help you get there. It didn’t help them get there either.
This popular myth was probably started by an overstated conclusion from this article. The truth is, most successful entrepreneurs are exceptional in one field. Mark Zuckerberg and Gates are coders. Buffett and Schwab are financial wizards. Granted, every CEO I’ve known is business savvy but, frankly, that’s not rocket science.
They have high EQs.
Perhaps the most overhyped myth of the day is that emotional intelligence is predictive of leadership performance. Not only has that link been strongly contested by researchers, it’s not at all clear that scoring high on notoriously subjective EQ tests is even a good thing. I think an interesting concept was hijacked by opportunists and turned into a fad. It’s truly sad how many people have bought into the hype.
They read loads of business books.
Most are well-read but not the popular self-help-style books that are all the rage these days. They’re just as likely to be consumers of classic literature, science fiction, philosophy, and accounts of historic figures and companies as anything resembling modern business books.
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They’re positive thinkers.
I know CEOs who are generally optimistic, pessimistic, and everything in between. Mostly they’re realistic – at least the good ones are. And they don’t over-think things. Rather, they trust their gut and that’s what helps them make smart decisions. In any case, focusing on the positive can at times help but it can just as easily lead to self-delusion and utopian thinking that holds you back.
Their personal habits make a big difference.
Every highly accomplished CEO I’ve known worked his tail off and had his own particular way of getting things done. No two worked the same way. More importantly, they were all remarkably effective at prioritizing what was critical and focusing on what mattered – making killer products that customers love. Personal habits didn’t make them successful. Doing great work made them successful.
They’re awesome communicators.
Some CEOs avoid communication like the plague while others over-communicate. The ones who are effective communicators keep their sphere of influence relatively tight, speaking mostly with staff, customers, and investors. All-employee emails and all-hands virtual meetings are vastly overrated. In many ways, they do more harm than good.
Perhaps the biggest myth of all is the latest and greatest crowd-pleasing notion that anyone can be a leader just by virtue of a CEO title, a blog, and some Twitter followers. Please. Calling yourself a CEO doesn’t make you one. Real leaders have companies, employees, and customers -- not delusions of grandeur.
Related: 7 Signs of a Future Success Story
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.