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Growth Strategies

Selecting the Best CEO for Your Company

Ask these questions to find out if prospective executives will fit with your culture.
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: We hired a CEO for a previous company we started, and after about five months noticed that this individual was a micromanager who wanted to control everything. We will be hiring a CEO for another startup company and would like to know how to choose the right CEO for the type of culture we are developing. Are there pre-employment tests or specific questions to ask and behaviors to look for? How do you know if a CEO candidate can manage without controlling?

A: I can understand your concern for hiring the right or best CEO. All the successes and failures in any company flow up and down the hierarchy, but, ultimately, the CEO is the person in charge who needs to assume responsibility for the outcomes.

There is certainly no "one best" CEO or boss. This individual is a combination of personal and professional traits, behaviors, characteristics, knowledge, skills and abilities. Management researchers have not yet decided which of these factors coupled with which management or leadership theories are most effective. However, most people would agree that success definitely depends on the best matching of those factors with the environment or culture of your company. The successful CEO of IBM, for example, might not be successful at a chain of statewide supermarkets or high-tech fix-it shops. Failure or success comes not only from within the individual, but also from the individual who works within the existing culture or desired culture that the CEO attempts to develop.

You already seem to have an idea about the importance of a prospective CEO fitting into your culture. Let me offer a few more thoughts and questions to trigger your deepening view of the aspects that define a culture and the necessary factors a CEO candidate must possess in order to work well within a culture.

First, a culture is generally defined as the sum total of a group or organization's actions, structures, policies, beliefs, legends, ceremonies, history and values. The CEO and the people he or she trusts and/or delegates to are responsible for creating or furthering the ongoing aspects of that culture.

If you want to improve the chances that you will hire the best candidate for your culture, you will need to take a hard assessment of your internal and external corporate environment, no matter how large or small your organization may be. For instance, with whom will the CEO communicate: other CEOs? Community leaders? The press? What is the CEO's vision for your company? How well does it mesh with your view? Just where does the CEO want to take your company, or is that candidate happy with the status quo? What goals does this person have for moving from today's world into tomorrow's world? How will that be achieved? At what cost and to whom? With how much change? Using which process of change?

What values does the CEO candidate espouse? How does this person feel about these issues: honesty, integrity and ethics? Outcome issues such as productivity, revenue and quality? Values such as individual vs. teamwork? Highly structured vs. less-structured leadership styles? Autocratic vs. democratic processes? People-oriented vs. productivity-oriented? Trust vs. distrust? Creativity and innovation vs. current focus? Risk-taking vs. playing it safe?

These are, of course, just some of the descriptors that can define a successful CEO. The most fundamental step is for you and your colleagues to answer these questions. Then, review resumes and interview candidates to determine just how close they come to reflecting the picture of the ideal candidate for your specific company. In the process of making that decision, ask specific questions of the candidate and insist on specific, measurable responses that include key examples of what the candidate did and did not do in various situations.

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