CMO to CEO: 4 Qualities of a Great Leader

There are several steadfast qualities that make a great leader.

Are those traits inherent in a leader, or are they learned?

The answer: both.

FMF guest-host for #TakeoverTuesday, Katie Bullard, had the chance to discuss the qualities of a great leader with NAVEX Global’s CEO Bob Conlin.

Here’s what we’re unpacking today:

  • The top qualities of a great CEO
  • Developing the qualities of a great CEO

This post is based on a podcast with Bob Conlin. You can listen to the full episode here and below.


Let’s first dig into the the characteristics that make a great CEO.

1. Enthusiasm and optimism

Whether you’re born with these traits or need to develop them, enthusiasm and optimism are important for a CEO to possess.

Bob has personally worked under CEOs who are enthusiastic and those who aren’t. From his experiences, it’s much easier to rally behind a CEO who is encouraging and optimistic. No matter how intelligent you are, if people aren’t excited about your message, it will always be a struggle to lead them.

A healthy balance of constructive criticism and celebrating successes will help others buy into your vision for the organization.

2. Persuasiveness

A valuable characteristic that marketing and sales professionals oftentimes possess is persuasiveness. As a CMO moving into the CEO position, carrying that persuasive quality over can be powerful.

Some sales and marketing pros naturally have a persuasive tendency, but others have to learn it. No matter which boat you’re in, it’s crucial to learn how to use the skill according to your audience. That’s why continually learning about your company and industry will help you use persuasion to your advantage.

3. Empathy

Bob encourages CMOs looking to transition to CEO to broaden their perspectives. Learning to empathize with your team and leadership will prove helpful in your path to CEO.

Learn about the factors that affect the sales and customer success teams. Think about how your actions on the marketing team influence the customer’s entire experience.

Moreover, as the CMO, you should be in tune with how your objectives support the bigger picture. What goals do your investors and board have? How can you make a more positive impact on the results they’re seeing?

Empathy will help you learn more about the different departments of your company and prepare you to oversee more people.

4. Approachability

Approachability is valuable to a great leader and, if not inherent, should be learned.

Not sure if you’re approachable? Try assessing yourself with a personality test. It can shed light on your interpersonal strengths and weaknesses.

If you find you’re lacking in approachability, make it a personal goal to mitigate this weakness. Bob emphasizes the impact assessing his own strengths and weaknesses has had on his career. He’s been able to use his strengths to their full potential and work on improving the aspects at which he falls short.

How to develop the qualities of a great CEO

As a CMO, if you haven’t yet nailed down the aforementioned characteristics, there’s still hope. 

Bob provides us with four ways we can develop the top qualities of a CEO:

  • Always be learning about the organization. Take the initiative to learn more about other departments and positions. This will help you understand the company better as a whole. Explore all of the touchpoints a customer goes through and how that affects organizational goals.
  • Share your career goals with your manager. If your goal is to become CEO, make sure your manager knows it. Being transparent about your career goals will help leadership envision you as more than the CMO.
  • Keep a realistic timeline. You might be in a hurry to move into the CEO’s chair, but building a realistic timeline will help you be a better leader in the end. You won’t learn everything overnight. Give yourself a chance to solidify an extensive knowledge of the organization.
  • Offer to help. Even if you’re not particularly passionate about a task, offer to take it on just for the sake of learning. By proactively taking on more and broader responsibilities, your leadership will more readily see you as fit for the CEO position.

A smooth transition from CMO to CEO

Bob’s experiences as a CMO prepared him to take on a CEO position because he was able to learn from them.

He wasn’t necessarily a master of the top traits great CEOs possess. However, he was always willing to learn and improve. Bob even took a demotion to discover more about a particular operation in order to expand his organizational knowledge.

Through his varying roles, Bob was also able to stay authentic to his true strengths. But, to be a great leader, you have to be willing to work on your weaknesses.

By working to develop the top qualities great CEOs have, you’ll be ready to make a smooth transition from CMO to CEO.

2019-08-20T09:42:31+00:00