The 5 CEO Personas and Why They Matter

I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with many great CEOs of mid-market companies over my career – outstanding men and women who will leave a lasting impact on the business community.

Some of them are innovators who created a new category of products or services.

Some of them are professional managers who took over a struggling company and turned it into a high-performing company.

And some of them really struggled in the CEO role.

There are five other significant issues that cause people to struggle in their role as CEO of a mid-market company:

  • A lack of training. The reality is, most mid-market CEOs were trained in something other than being a CEO;
  • The lack of competent training available to CEOs of mid-market companies;
  • The lack of awareness by the CEO for their shortcomings;
  • Their lack of willingness to spend the time “working on their business” rather than “working in their business”;
  • The company’s culture. It can be easily argued that the culture of a company is more important than the products or services the company offers. Independent studies of public companies support this. I’ve covered this in more detail in this webinar, and will continue this discussion in future posts.

A final cause – and my topic for today – is related to the personal desires of the CEO. Mid-market CEOs are rarely hired in the same manner as public company CEOs. They’re not filtered through a comprehensive executive search and vetted by an independent board of directors. Most of them are in the CEO role because they founded the company, bought the company, were senior management and took over for a retiring CEO, or were given the role by a family member.

Some of the CEOs I work with are conflicted about what they want to get personally out of their role as a CEO. We talk about this often in our ShortTrack CEO book and program. CEOs of private companies don’t have analysts and public shareholders to report to. They don’t have to meet quarterly earnings estimates or risk being fired.

CEOs of mid-market companies are fundamentally different than their public company counterparts. The reality is the many of the most effective mid-market CEOs achieve success in part due to their understanding of exactly what they want their endgame to be.

The 5 CEO Personas

5 CEO Personas and Why They Matter

I use the following persona descriptions for mid-market CEOs based on the 5 most common endgames:

  • The Growth CEO – You have a desire to move forward, to get bigger, to expand, to beat your competition and win the game. While this seems to be the logical profile of all CEOs, that isn’t what we’ve experienced—approximately 30% of the CEOs I encounter are true ‘growth CEOs.’
  • The Hired Gun CEO – You’ve been brought into a new company with the goal of making a short-term, immediate impact. It’s usually a turnaround or preparation for a company sale, and you have a big financial gain at stake and a reputation for being a turnaround expert. Approximately 15% of the CEOs I encounter fall into this persona.
  • The Strategic CEO – You’re striving for a mid-term exit in 10 years. You’re either a company founder, or you’ve run the company a long time—and you’re focused on improving the business, to sell or to transfer to a family member. This persona accounts for approximately 20% of the CEOs I encounter.
  • The Career CEO – You’re a new CEO within the first 3 years of taking on your first command and have achieved your dream role—you plan on being a CEO for multiple companies over your career. Approximately 10% of the CEOs I encounter fall into this persona.
  • The Auto-Pilot CEO – You’ve achieved continued success with your business but it requires all of your attention to operate the company at your desired level. You’d like to get the business to the point where it can perform at this level without your constant involvement, so you can work less and have more time for other activities. Approximately 25% of the CEOs I encounter fall into this persona.

Understanding the persona that fits you is important to your company’s performance and vital to your ultimate happiness. If you’re not thinking about your endgame, you may be focusing on the wrong things. It’s not enough to just recognize the type of CEO you wish to be, it’s important not to get caught in these traps:

  • I’ve seen Growth CEOs who don’t invest enough to effectively grow the company.
  • I’ve seen Strategic CEOs who are focused on growth instead of preparing the company properly for a sale or transfer.
  • I’ve seen Auto-Pilot CEOs who allow their executive teams and decision-making processes to funnel through them, forcing them to work 80 hours a week.
  • I’ve seen Career CEOs who don’t surround themselves with people with the right experience and the right systems to allow them to learn.

Understanding your CEO persona can make many of the decisions you grapple with on a weekly basis fairly straightforward.

And it can make you a lot happier in what can be a lonely role.