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How to Think Like a CEO

If you have ever aspired to run your own business (or an existing corporation), you may already be interested in applying the traits, philosophies, and leadership styles of successful CEOs to your career.

But even if you have no interest in becoming a business leader (or ever working in business, for that matter), learning to think about your own life, finances, and career the way a CEO thinks about running a business can be rewarding…and help you reach your own goals faster.

Successful CEOs Are Focused on the Bottom Line. The CEO’s job, in a nutshell, is to lead a business in generating a profit for shareholders quarter after quarter. The CEO is a leader, but the goal is always profit. In your personal life, your “profit” is the amount of money you save. Just as a business that never generates a profit will fail, if you always spend more than you earn you’ll first go into debt and eventually go bankrupt. To avoid that, and to maximize your savings for your own goals, you’ll need to do what good CEOs do. Put simply:

  • Find ways to increase revenue (your income)
  • Find ways to cut costs (your monthly expenses)

Successful CEOs Are Leaders. Even if you don’t manage others at work, you can be a leader by setting an example for everybody you know. Your actions are all it takes: Work harder, spend smarter, give back, be a good listener.

Successful CEOs Are Competitive. Whether you’re naturally competitive or not, it pays to take a competitive outlook in life, especially in your career. I’m not recommending you become ruthless and begin undermining your coworkers to get ahead, but you should pay attention to what other people are doing in your line of work to be successful, and adapt.

Successful CEOs Are Always Improving. Obviously, good is never good enough to successful CEOs. They are always striving to make their organizations better. And more often than not, ask a CEO what he or she does with free time during the workweek and you two of the top answers will be “exercise” and “read”. Top execs don’t just want to improve their businesses, they want to improve themselves. Likewise, the more time and energy you spend on improving yourself, the farther you’ll go.

Successful CEOs Are Positive. Not only are optimistic people happier, they are often more successful, too. Nobody wants to hire, much less be around, a “Debbie Downer”. The sooner you learn to look on the bright side, the more opportunities you’ll have.

Successful CEOs Are Persistent. Of course, no matter how positive you are, there are always going to be tough times. Although the first step is to learn how not to let tough times get you down, the second step is to train yourself to work through them. Don’t let set backs stop you from working towards you goals.

Successful CEOs Take Risks. With big risks come big rewards, both in business and in life. It can be scary to take a new job, start your own business, go back to school, or move to a new city. Most people I know never regret doing any of the above, but I would be that there are a lot of people out there who regret not doing some of those things.

What do you think? Are there any top traits that you see successful CEOs using that you have incorporated into your own life?

Published or updated on May 26, 2009

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30.

  1. solomon francis okopi says:

    A great write uq, will certainly improve differemt area of my life. Thanks

  2. solomon francis okopi says:

    Reading, nay studing what you so thoughtfully put down here is a great help to my job. Thank you very much.

  3. TIP Guy says:

    Hello David,

    I have been reading your blog post for last three months now. Among all, this particular one on how CEOs think is one that strikes a similarity. I started thinking like a CEO after I had a not so great yearly appraisal with my c-level manager.

    Before I left his office, he said to me “Like you run the affairs of your house, as a CEO, I run the affairs of this company”. Many times, at home you do things which is good for your family (even though you do not like it). Similarly, there are many aspects I personally do not like, but I do it for the company.

    Great post!
    TIP Guy

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