The secret of the most successful CEOs

In my work I get to see many entrepreneurs in action with their teams. Over the years I’ve noticed how the most successful ones are always reminding their teams about “why” they are in business. They really are the “Keepers of the Flame”.


A great example of this in action was a highly charged management team meeting I happened to attend a few weeks ago. The team were debating an important decision but within a couple of minutes the discussion descended into a complete and utter frenzy. In the middle of all this, listening, but slightly absent, was the founder/CEO.

Eventually, and just before the most stubborn defender of the status quo got strangled by the just-off-the-plane-Pom, the CEO coughed a few times, caught everyone’s attention and simply said, “I just keep coming back to why we started this business…”

And with those words the room calmed down, the discussion got back on track and eventually a good outcome was reached.

I’ve seen this guy do it before. Whenever things go off course, an odd decision has been made or there is fiery disagreement, he never tells anyone they are “wrong” he just gets them to look at the situation in the light of “why we started this business” and they quickly work the issue out themselves.

So on that theme I have three questions for you:

  • Are you the “Keeper of the Flame” in your business?
  • If so, what are you doing to grow the next generation of “flame keepers”?
  • If not, should you be the “Keeper of the Flame”?

If you are the “Keeper of the Flame” it would be interesting for you to see if anyone else refers to “why the business was started” when you aren’t around. If they do then you’re already growing the next generation of “flame keepers”, no work required!

If they don’t, it could be because they think it’s your story. If this is the case then I suggest you have a chat to a couple of your most senior people, explain why you use the “why we started the business” line and help them work out how they can use it as part of a story that feels right for them.

You might be reading this feeling that you have neglected your flame a little recently. Fortunately, it’s easy to resurrect it, (providing, of course, that you had a good reason for starting your business in the first place).

Start by experimenting. The next time there’s a decision to be made suggest to the team that they, “Look at this in the light of why we started the business”. Keep it up, at every opportunity be the “Keeper of the Flame” and see how you can reinvigorate the business by keeping the memory of “why” front of mind.

Julia Bickerstaff’s expertise is in helping businesses grow profitably. She runs two businesses: Butterfly Coaching, a small advisory firm with a unique approach to assisting SMEs with profitable growth; and The Business Bakery, which helps kitchen table tycoons build their best businesses. Julia is the author of How to Bake a Business and was previously a partner at Deloitte. She is a chartered accountant and has a degree in economics from The London School of Economics (London University).


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