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  • Debbie Schwake

Understanding the CEO Persona: Driving with Motivation and Vision

Updated: Feb 26

“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.” – Norman Schwarzkopf

In marketing, CEO personas are the key element to understanding the motivations of your buyer, whether alone or as part of the buying committee.

Let's dig deeper into the key motivations of what may be the most important member of the C-suite: the Chief Executive Officer.

Today’s CEO should:

Invest in employees

Take care of your strongest swimmers. They’re the first to jump.

A huge part of a successful business is the loyalty of its employees, and loyalty comes when employees are treated with humanity and compassion. But today’s best CEOs take this to a new level.

Empathy and a deeply interconnected culture are now at the forefront of employee investment strategies. Hierarchical boundaries within numerous organizations are increasingly blurred, allowing employees at all levels to contribute their expertise, engage actively, and receive deserved recognition for their input.

Moreover, the CEO has significantly emphasized achieving a harmonious work-life balance. This is reflected in adopting flexible working models, openness to hybrid or remote work scenarios, creating more inviting office spaces, and improving employee benefits. Trust in employees has reached new heights, as demonstrated by progressive policies like unlimited vacation time.

You may say the CEO has become far more caring and empathetic, understanding that your team is your most important asset. After all, culture eats strategy for lunch!

Support their local communities

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it highlighted the importance of seeing outside ourselves and having empathy for those around us.

Today, businesses, regardless of their size, are increasingly viewed as integral components of the communities they serve. The expectation for these organizations to positively impact their surrounding communities has grown, especially after the pandemic. This period hastened a shift in customer values, emphasizing community support and sustainability as critical corporate responsibilities.

Today's CEO needs to incorporate community engagement and sustainability strategies into their objectives, ensuring that the organization's vision extends beyond its physical premises.

Drive company growth, revenue, value, and profitability

A large percentage of CEOs agree that focusing on growth over operational efficiencies is the way to go. What a good CEO needs is a strong and effective overall growth strategy.

In Tiffani Bova’s book, Growth IQ, Tiffani neatly lays out these ten potential growth strategies for an organization:

  1. Customer experience

  2. Customer-based penetration

  3. Market acceleration

  4. Product expansion

  5. Customer/Product diversification

  6. Optimize sales

  7. Churn

  8. Partnerships

  9. Co-opetition

  10. Unconventional strategies

You can almost guarantee that the CEO has ideas related to each of these ten areas every day. That should be no surprise to the members of the organization who often hear these ideas through the CEO’s vision statement or the strategies passed on through the leadership team.

Whatever the growth strategy, the best CEOs continually navigate the company’s revenue and profitability, goals based on strategic objectives rather than outdated information from prior performance.

The CEO, as the face of the company, should be the person who’s behind increasing the value of said company. There are many different ways to do this, including only carrying assets that maximize value and providing investors with value-relevant information.

Advancing the organization into the future is critical for maintaining its ongoing viability. For the CEO, this entails understanding that growth, revenue, and profitability are fundamentally intertwined.

Manage costs and risk

Within an organization, the CEO most acutely feels the burden of managing risk and controlling costs. As the organization's guiding force, the CEO is pivotal in reporting to various entities, including company owners, the board of directors, employee owners, stakeholders, and shareholders. While achieving financial targets is commonly linked with revenue increases, it is equally critical to associate it with effective cost management.

CEOs tie cost and risk management into their overall growth strategy, studying how these risks affect the company’s direction. And there are risks at every turn, which makes the CEO more skeptical of new proposals or innovations.

Innovate and invent

The English Proverb, “Necessity is the mother of all invention” describes the CEO’s charge when it comes to company growth, or in the case of declining markets, company survival.

Innovation is frequently centered around enhancing efficiency and effectiveness, focusing on internal improvements to optimize organizational operations. In contrast, invention involves crafting new entities, typically linked with research and development (R&D) activities. Innovation and invention are consistently a focus for the CEO, both in planning for the company's long-term trajectory and ensuring its resilience through difficult times.

A CEO championing innovation often leads to a company that thrives on creativity and progress, consistently making significant advancements. Generally, the CEO is responsible for giving the final nod to R&D plans and budgets, balancing substantial inputs from the leadership team accountable for these proposals, and presenting the rationale to the company's board of directors, owners, or other governing entities.

Out-perform competitors

Whether they admit it or not, CEO’s tend to be fiercely competitive. And the truth is, don’t you want this in your ultimate leader? (I do!)

The CEO will keep a very watchful eye on the entire industry, including competitors. Recall that their role is to steer the company into the future position, whether growth or new products and services. As such, this individual continually runs scenarios for achieving these goals, determining what core competencies make sense and how to build the organization to reach new potential markets.

But outperforming competitors, in the CEO’s mind, may have little to do with the little things. Remember this individual’s site picture is very broad. Which means outperforming similar competitors may be more about setting yourself apart by improving on areas like workforce motivation, building your company’s brand, and providing excellent customer service. In the case of aggressive growth, the CEO will look to add competency and capability quickly, perhaps by acquisition or invention.

Enhance collaboration

Studies show that organizations have, over time, increased the size of the teams involved in important projects or processes across many organizations. This increase, aided by technology, poses some natural challenges in communication alone. But done right, this collaboration brings far more diversity and thought and the potential for better decision-making. But it can also be an exercise in managing complexity.

The CEO’s role is to promote a culture of collaboration by setting an example in the CEO’s leadership and making this an imperative among the entire leadership team. Harvard Business Review states, “under the right conditions, large teams can achieve high levels of cooperation, but creating those conditions requires thoughtful, and sometimes significant, investments in the capacity for collaboration across the organization.”

Collaboration within the entire organization begins at the top, with the CEO encouraging communication and managing future plans.

Putting it all together | the CEO's persona

As you thoughtfully approach how best to connect with a CEO, you must first consider the depth and breadth of one of the most influential leaders in the company.

The CEO will likely flank his leadership team members to understand the gritty details and then attempt to see how these affect the larger picture of how the organization operates and works in the community. Further, this executive will want you to be clear about how you will impact his team members, including the organization's culture, and how your suggestion might enhance the team's collaboration.

Further, take note of the CEO's skepticism when it comes to organizational risk. You need to demonstrate the absence of risk or carefully frame the type of risk involved in what you're suggesting.

In terms of cost or expense control, the CEO requires - absolutely without question - that you show a return on value or return on investment. Rarely would a capable CEO take on cost without the promise of value, even if long-term.

This leader's charge is not necessarily to create the plan for the organization but to engage the competent leadership team to make a case for how their contributions and the contributions of their teams will help the company grow, sustain, best serve their customers and community, and create a positive work environment for the entire team.

Keep your discussions focused on those big-picture and ultra-important goals, but remember this individual is knowledgeable and will also easily understand the details.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do CEOs balance the need for immediate financial results with the long-term vision and sustainability of the company?

In the intricate dance of leadership, Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) master the art of balancing immediate financial results with their companies' overarching vision and sustainability. This equilibrium is not achieved through a one-size-fits-all approach but through a nuanced understanding of the business landscape. CEOs adept at this balance often adopt a dual-focus strategy, where short-term gains do not come at the expense of long-term value. They achieve this by setting clear, achievable goals that serve immediate financial needs while ensuring these goals align with the broader vision. For instance, investing in innovative technologies may offer a competitive edge that boosts short-term revenues and lays the groundwork for future growth. Moreover, transparent communication with stakeholders about the company's direction and the rationale behind strategic decisions is crucial. By doing so, CEOs maintain investor confidence and employee engagement, ensuring that the pursuit of immediate results strengthens, rather than undermines, the company's long-term sustainability.

What specific strategies do CEOs employ to foster a culture of innovation and creativity within their organizations?

Fostering a culture of innovation and creativity is a hallmark of visionary CEOs who understand that the future of their organizations depends on their ability to innovate. These leaders champion an environment where risk-taking is encouraged, and failure is a stepping stone to success. They often implement open forums or innovation labs where employees across hierarchies can share ideas freely, breaking down the traditional barriers to creative thinking. 

Recognizing and rewarding innovative ideas is another strategy that reinforces the value placed on creativity. Moreover, CEOs invest in continuous learning and development programs, ensuring that their teams are exposed to the latest trends, technologies, and methodologies that inspire new thinking methods. By personally embodying a curiosity-driven approach and demonstrating an unwavering commitment to innovation, CEOs inspire their teams to push boundaries and explore new horizons.

How do CEOs ensure their leadership style and company policies reflect the evolving expectations of modern employees and consumers? 

CEOs adopt empathetic and inclusive leadership styles and adapt company policies accordingly. They prioritize active listening, staying informed on social and environmental issues, and adjusting policies to align with societal concerns. Recognizing the importance of a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace culture, CEOs understand this approach attracts top talent and fosters innovation. Moreover, acknowledging consumers' preference for companies committed to sustainability and social responsibility, they integrate sustainable practices into business operations and actively engage in community initiatives. This alignment between leadership style and company policies with modern values enhances the company's reputation and positions it for long-term success in a competitive marketplace.


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