Everyone wants to be at the top, but it takes the right balance of characteristics and skill to be successful once you've gotten there. To most, being the head of a company seems like a cushy gig, but the reality is far from it.
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Think of it this way: you have to keep the majority of your employees happy, improve the bottom line, be the face of the company when something goes wrong, be accountable to shareholders and a board of directors, and be ultimately responsible for the jobs of hundreds or even thousands of people - all of this and there are always people who want to knock you off your pedestal so that they may move into this "cushy" position. (Think you have what it takes to be chief executive? Find out what those at the top have in common in Becoming A CEO.)
Finding the balance that keeps employees happy and motivated while running a successful company takes a lot of skill.
Empathy and People Skills
The last thing anyone wants is for their boss to be lacking people skills. When a boss can relate to employees and make them feel like they're understood, employees will develop an attachment to the company and will be motivated to succeed at and for the company.
Forbes' list of "America's Favorite Bosses," which is compiled with information obtained through the job salary and review site glassdoor.com, highlights one of the employees of Southwest Airlines' comments about CEO Gary Kelly: "Kelly does a fantastic job in showing that he cares for his employees."
Southwest is rated on the site as having a 4.7/5 satisfied employee rate and Kelly has a 95% approval rating.
Flexibility and Knowledge
These two skills go hand in hand, because if a boss knows his or her company, they have the ability to think on their feet and be flexible, and be able to deal with employee needs. Many bosses will have the education that their employees have and then some.
The CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, has the knowledge to jump into most roles at the company. Schmidt has a master's degree in science and a PhD in electrical engineering and computer science. Schmidt also wears many hats outside of work, as he has worked as a professor and serves as an advisor to President Obama. Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes, who grew up a farmer, put it perfectly: "What everybody wants to do is drive the tractor. But there are lots of days when you have to scoop up the manure."
Experience Within the Company
This important quality allows a boss to empathize with employees as well as fully understand how the company works, how departments are integrated and communicate, and what is involved in motivating employees and aligning the company's overall direction. There are a plethora of famous CEOs that have either started their company or spent time in a number of positions throughout the years before ascending to the top.
In Forbes' "America's Favorite Bosses" list for 2009, the number-one rated boss was Ken Powell, the CEO and Chairman of General Mills. Powell became CEO in 2007 and before that had been the COO and VP of a number of different divisions. However, Powell started his career fresh out of his MBA program and one of his first jobs was to do marketing for a cereal division. This kind of experience within the company prepared Powell to lead it. (CEOs, CFOs, presidents and vice presidents: learn how to tell the difference in The Basics Of Corporate Structure.)
Motivation and the Ability to Motivate Others
Company vision is good for stockholders and the company at large, but it can also serve to motivate employees. However, sometimes strong vision doesn't make the best boss - just look at Jack Welch who famously fired 10% of his managers each year, and Steve Jobs' well-known iron-fist management techniques. (This engineer climbed the corporate ladder to lead his company into double-digit growth. Learn more in You Don't Know Jack Welch.)
Still, people who have worked with Jobs have said that though his vision was severe he brought the best out of them and made them realize their fullest potential. In the book "Inside Steve's Brain," author Leander Kahaney quotes Jobs' former employee Corsdell Ratzlaff saying, "Sometimes it was difficult, but he had the ability to pull the best out of people."
Passion and Enjoyment
If a boss doesn't enjoy his or her job, how can they expect their employees to be passionate about working for the company? Like the other qualities discussed here, a boss must lead by example, and this means being passionate about their job, working hard and having a good time while doing it. Most CEOs succeed when they genuinely care about the product they're putting out, and these CEOs can help their employees as they'll genuinely care about how the employees are doing and the employees' level of passion and enjoyment.
A star CEO like Steve Jobs may have his shortcomings in the personal skills and empathy department, but his passion for his job has not only taken Apple to the top, but also gotten many of his employees to enjoy their own, finding passion for the job and enjoyment. Jobs is quoted as saying that his job is to "take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better, coming up with more aggressive visions of how it could be." (Hot off a hugely successful iPad launch, Jobs is fashionable again, but he hasn't always been held in such high esteem. Don't miss What Would Jobs Do?)
The Bottom Line
All of the qualities here make a boss better for employees and for the company at large. Though there are times when these qualities can clash, the right balance will lead to happy employees and happy shareholders.
Feeling uninformed? Check out the financial news highlights in Water Cooler Finance: Greece Is Burning And Buffett's Under Fire.