Joseph Destein is an executive coach and master chairman at Vistage International, said to be the world’s oldest and largest CEO organization.

What are key leadership qualities of a CEO? Here are a few:

“Keeper of the Vision”

The CEO is the keeper of the vision, the why, the mission, the purpose, the values and the protector of the culture. The CEO must be able to articulate this vision, not only on paper, but by speech and actions within the company and in the community.

“Key Investor”

Underpinning all great visions must be the discipline of responsible investment of resources and the management of risk taking. The CEO is the final word on which initiatives will drive revenue, productivity, profitability and lead the organization into the future.

Whether the CEO is the founder, a descendant of the founder, a hired gun or a minority stockholder of the organization, the CEO is responsible for the income statements and balance sheet of the organization. In our contemporary business culture, “People, Planet and Profit” intertwine as areas of responsibility.

If you don’t have profit, you can’t do good things for your people or your planet. If you can’t make a profit, capital and human resources should be redirected toward other investments that will be successful. The rule for CEOs and their financial statements is, “delegate, don’t abdicate” your responsibilities as Key Investor.

“Key Strategist”

The CEO must work with their team to enumerate the detailed strategies and objectives of how to achieve their vision and how to measure success. Without clear strategies, a vision is just that, a vision. You must make the impossible, possible; the possible, probable; and the probable a reality.

The vision is where you want to go, the strategies are the road map to get there and objective metrics are how you keep track of progress.

“Delegator in Chief”

Delegation comes from the top and is carried down through the organization by the team. Every strategy has action plans and initiatives that must be successful for the strategy to be successful.

In mobilizing the talent and energy of their teams, the CEO must be sure the teams know what is expected of them, who is responsible for doing the work and when the work is to be completed. This creates the alignment and accountability that an organization must have to achieve their goals. Clear action plans, initiatives, delegation and accountability will lead to success.

“Hope is not a strategy”

When Jack Welsh ran General Electric at factories around the world, he would go down on the factory floor, randomly walk up to a machine operator and ask the question, “Who are you coaching? If you didn’t show up tomorrow, who would take your place? Tell me about the training you are doing for that person.” If you didn’t have a good answer for Jack, you would be in big trouble.

He understood that plans and strategies had to include a line of succession, as well as the coaching and training to carry them out. For the CEO, identifying and coaching his own successor is one of the most important jobs of all.

Coaching programs have replaced performance reviews as best practice for managing your team. The CEO reviews personal achievements, negotiates Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), sets goals and challenges with each of their direct reports, and then has the direct reports do the same process down through the entire management team.


Joseph Destein is an executive coach and master chairman at Vistage International, said to be the world’s oldest and largest CEO organization.

Whether coaching a warrior to use a sword or a manager to lead a production team, great leaders create great coaching organizations.


We live in what the military has dubbed a “VUCA” world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). The CEO who embraces being a lifelong learner has the best chance of leading their organization through a VUCA world. That means attending classes, workshops and seminars, reading books and articles, joining peer groups, listening to best practice educators, hiring personal coaches and working with advisers.

The CEO learns and brings it all back to their organizations to help them stretch their abilities. The more a leader can keep on top of the best practice changes taking place in the world, the better chance their organization will be able to innovate and keep ahead of their competition.


In a VUCA world, change happens, and it’s happening faster and faster every year. The company needs everyone to be alert and sensitive to the changes taking place around them. Every aspect of the company should be viewed with an eye toward replacing it with an innovation of concept, design, production or new technology.

When and where will robotics, artificial intelligence, pattern recognition, GPS controls, internet applications, big data, system modeling, block chains and digital currency or 3D printing become practical and useful in your organization?

If you discover an innovation you may want to pursue, first ask yourself the question, “In the future, do I think we will be able to do that?” If the answer is yes, then ask, “How can we make that happen sooner?”

“Chief Salesperson”

Best practices in sales is achieved by reaching a “we” relationship with your customers. This means that every time a need arises, or a pain is felt by a customer, they immediately come to you to solve the need.

You are loyal and committed to them, they are loyal and committed to you.

This is easier said than done. It requires the organization to identify every touchpoint they have with a customer, and scrupulously review the behaviors which will move you to a “we” relationship.

It is the CEO that must lead that effort and stand behind it with the customer. The CEO doesn’t have to be in every sales meeting, but they must be at key contract meetings to give the customer their personal cell phone number and tell them to call, any time of day or night, if they ever have a concern, question or comment about the service they are receiving. The sales buck stops with the CEO.

“Chief Communicator”

The CEO must be able to communicate effectively, both internally with their management team and their employees and externally with their vendors, their customers and the community. This requires skills of active listening, mindfulness, persuasion and public speaking.

The CEO must be able to inspire everyone they deal with, help them see and understand the same compelling vision, the mission and the values that makes their company the best place to work, to do business with and to have as a member of their community.


The CEO acts as a role model, both internally and externally. Everyday when you show up for work you are on stage. It’s show time!

People react to what they see and hear. A CEO who shows up confidently, positively, friendly, engaged and open to people, will be modeling the behavior they expect of everyone around them.

Externally, the CEO is the face of the organization. How you show up in the community says a lot about how the community will feel about your organization. It also influences how well you will attract political and economic support, as well as potential new employees. In their role as ambassador, a CEO can employ their three-minute speech to relate their “compelling saga” and leave a memorable impression on their world of influence.