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7 Tough Leadership Challenges Gauge Your CEO Ability

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business-leadership-candidatesAs a business advisor, I often talk to business professionals who are critical of their CEO, and are convinced that they could do the job better. Yet I suspect that few of you have seriously thought about the scope of problems that every CEO must face, and what capabilities are the key to success, whether your company is a small startup, or a multi-billion multi-national conglomerate.

I have my own views on what it takes to be an effective leader at the top, based on many years as an executive in large companies as well as small, but I was impressed with the solid points in a new book, “The CEO Test,” by Adam Bryant and Kevin Sharer. These authors bring far more experience to the table, as well as the results of interviews with 500 CEOs and other leaders.

To check your own potential as a leader, I offer you insights on their self assessment to better understand how to be more effective and successful leaders, and respond to key challenges faced by every professional in business, based on the authors and my own real-life experiences. You can project the results by assessing how well you might handle these seven key objectives:

  1. Develop a simple plan for your complex strategy. Simplifying complexity and being ready to implement a solution are key. I have found that many people are great critics, or can study a problem forever. Far fewer are adept at getting to the heart of a challenge, and offering a simple strategy and plan. If this is your forte, you could be the next CEO.

  2. Walk the talk to create a winning company culture. Every company talks about their culture these days, but in many places it is still messy and political. Only the best leaders and CEOs pay real attention to how and when people commit, how employees accept accountability, and how they win. If your focus is on an effective culture, you are a leader.

  3. Build teams that work together to drive strategy. Teams that work together are ones that build trust, and have each other’s back, all while engaging with their leaders, and following a commonly developed strategy. CEOs who make this happen start by hiring the right people, communicating a strategy, and being the role model for collaboration.

  4. Provide leadership to drive a transformation. There is no more dangerous position in business than clinging to the status quo. The challenge of reinventing almost every aspect of a company on an ongoing basis can be overwhelming to everyone, so you are expected to provide the passion, framework, and incentives for continuous innovation.

  5. Really listen for danger signals and bad news. Too many CEOs today like to talk, trust their gut, but fail to listen to their team or the customer. They overlook danger signals, and make excuses for bad news. Great CEOs humbly invest the time and energy to walk the halls, travel to customers, and hold regular employee meetings, with real listening.

  6. Avoid predictable mistakes in handling a crisis. Real leaders don’t run and hide, or try to deflect blame, when a crisis hits. You have to be visible, show a sense of urgency, and communicate a plan, with regular status, to everyone. Stay calm and project confidence, while marshalling your team to understand and attack the root cause of the problem.

  7. Manage the conflicting demands of leadership. True leaders are expected to be optimistic, yet realistic; compassionate, yet demanding; create freedom with structure, and make unpopular calls, while keeping your ego in check. You have to appreciate the long-term rewards of a positive legacy, bringing out the best in others, and new learning.

So before you become a critic, take the time to do an honest assessment of your own capabilities and tendencies against these tough challenges. The business world needs more leaders and effective CEOs, to better serve their customers, their employees, and their company. Every day is a good day to start honing your skills. I’ll be watching, and I want to be your biggest advocate.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 03/10/2021 ***

Martin Zwilling is the Founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides services to startup founders around the world. See more details at


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