Becoming a CEO can be challenging and rewarding in equal measures. In a position of great responsibility and influence, what are the key attributes a new CEO should have? Max Steinberg CBE, chair of the International Business Festival, gives CEO Today his top five tips for success in the role.
Prepare to work hard. Whether you are running your own business or joining an organisation, you need to be prepared to work very hard. Of course, luck plays a part but without hard work and sustained effort you won’t get anywhere. It’s also important to remember that success isn’t instant and will only come through determination and the willingness to put all your effort into what you are doing. As an example, the 2016 International Business Festival took place during the EU referendum and there was a palpable feeling of real uncertainty in the air. It would have been tempting to bury our heads in the sand and avoid the subject but we didn’t do that. We were determined to continue with the Festival so we adhered to our original concept and focused on the results. This proved to be exactly the right approach, leading to a hugely successful Festival which delivered hundreds of millions pounds worth of additional trade and investment to the UK.
Be optimistic. As a leader, you need to keep an optimistic outlook. Whenever I have been faced with a challenge during my career, I’ve found it important to be positive and to believe that my work would bring about change for the better. In 1981 I was working for, then Secretary of State, Michael Heseltine who asked the team to invite a series of investors to visit Liverpool. This was a time when the city had just suffered a sudden and serious industrial decline and a precipitous period of serious civil unrest, so it was a challenging environment to say the least. After quite a struggle we secured 15 investors to visit the city and see its potential, which was an achievement in such turbulent times. Fast forward 33 years and the first International Business Festival in Liverpool attracted 68,000 visits from businesspeople to the city from around the world, demonstrating how far we had come. This is why keeping optimistic is important. It’s about playing the long game and knowing that while things may take some time to get off the ground, in the long run you will succeed.
Stick to what you stand for. Looking back at the start of my career, perhaps I said ‘yes’ too many times. It’s worth taking time to know what you stand for, and I have always believed in quality over quantity. For example, over the years we have refined the Festival to become a much more streamlined and specialist event. This year we will be dedicating individual days to focus on the challenges and opportunities facing global businesses in different high-growth sectors – from manufacturing to global logistics to sustainable energy. By setting the bar higher for ourselves each year in terms of quality, we have consistently delivered a better Festival every time.
Laughter goes a long way. Always try to have some fun, even when you are busy, perhaps a little stressed and working hard. I believe there’s no situation that can’t be improved by some humour – even if you’re having the worst day in the world. Remember your team are your most valuable asset; taking the time to build positive relationships will lead to a happier working environment and lower staff turnover. No single person – not even the most experienced CEO – can change things without a strong team around them.
Don’t give up. When things go wrong, don’t give up. Persistence is probably one of the most important attributes for any Chief Executive. Although plans may not work out at first, if you persevere and stay true to your mission you will have every chance of overcoming those problems. When things go wrong you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and move on. You will survive and be a much better leader as a consequence.