Are top chief executives actually worth it?

warren buffett chief executives

You’ve worked hard to get where you are, therefore you’re entitled … to what? Does it depend on what and how you deliver?

An interesting survey of the top 50 chief executives looks at people who have delivered the best results for their respective companies over the long term. We are talking in terms of months, even years in Warren Buffett’s case; through his prudent and steady development of Berkshire Hathaway, he has proven himself a superior chief executive and investor. Buffett famously only awards himself $US100,000 salary a year, reasoning that this is all he needs in life for himself and his family. 

Warren Buffett features in a gallery of chief executives who’ve made a measurable difference to their companies’ revenue and it’s worth checking out even if you don’t recognise some of them. Many are on much higher salaries than Buffett and some — for example, Tim Cook of Apple — have proved they are worthy holders of the chief executive title. 

These chief executives, and any good senior leader, must have qualities that take them and their companies on a road to success:

  1. Have a clear idea of where the company is heading — and influence staff to likewise see and execute this picture, irrespective of fads and trends. It can be tricky navigating a course of action when others are jockeying to grab the wheel and head in a different direction. That’s when chief executives need to remember that loyal fearless advisers will keep them focused while alerting them to the pitfalls.
  2. Know how to chart the company’s course — understand how the entire operation works without getting submerged in all the minutiae and mini-crises. Some great leaders rise through the ranks, or make an effort to spend time in the ranks, acquiring considerable grasp of all aspects of the business and the team qualities needed to keep it afloat, especially during tough times.
  3. Keep things steady in the midst of tough times — project a calm aura that makes staff feel their leader is not too busy for the occasional one-to-one chat. A distracted manager who can’t take time with, or care for, their people, especially those new to the team, is brewing a poor culture where soon enough this disappointing behaviour is a topic of discussion among a disgruntled team. Knowing why your team members matter, what they bring to the team and pointing them in the right direction, while giving them the tools they need to accomplish their tasks, are essential attributes in a chief executive or top leader who’s worth it.
  4. “Hasten slowly” — recognise the importance of being both highly organised and flexible. With experience, a person develops a well-honed sense of when to get things done, to keep a variety of tasks and objectives simultaneously bubbling with an acute awareness of timing and when to remove the pots from the stove. No-one constantly succeeds in this department, but we can all improve and it really contributes to the amazing amount that can be achieved when all the cogs are harmonised. 
  5. Seek input from a wide range of sources — pay attention to why squeaky wheels keep squeaking. Find out what is happening, try not to jump to conclusions and listen to more than you speak. The chief executive who noisily draws attention to everything they do is not going to be worth it in most people’s estimation, though allowances are often made for self-promoters who are highly skilled.
  6. Be discerning — this is not to be equated with shallow talent-seeking. Know who is needed to make endeavours succeed, develop talent, and don’t be afraid to steer past distractions, both of the personal and corporate variety. 

These are just some of the qualities of a chief executive who’s worth it. When we talk about “worth”, what we really mean is far more than the typical narrow definition of a Midas who pulls in the profits and rewards the shareholders. The benchmark comprises both financial and non-financial values, all of which are evident, year after year.

NOW READ: How chief executives can look after the health of their employees


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