What makes the perfect CEO?


Glassdoor, the website that allows employees to anonymously review companies, recently published its findings on the CEOs with the highest approval among staff in 2019.

The Employee’s Choice Awards for Top CEOs 2019 reveal those business leaders who have succeeded in inspiring their whole organisation.

Topping the UK list with 99% approval was the CEO of Anglian Water, Peter Simpson, who described how he and his company achieve success in a blog.

But this survey of employee approval begs the question: what makes the perfect CEO? We spoke to some of our Lane4 colleagues from different departments to find out what they think!

Dominic Mahony
Dominic Mahony (Product and Delivery Director)

CEOs come in all shapes and sizes and no one is perfect! That said, there are a number of clear characteristics: the strength of character (and ego-need) to be the boss; it’s a lonely position at the top and not for just anyone.

The best CEOs have a charismatic combination of self-confidence and humility usually expressed as being approachable and ready to engage with people. Possessing high emotional intelligence, they regulate their own emotions, are calm under pressure and take it off others where appropriate.

They coach, cajole, have high standards and are supportively demanding. Whether an extrovert or introvert, they leave people feeling better about themselves whenever they interact.

(See Dominic’s profile here)

Dwight Lawrence (Principal Consultant)

They need to be able to skilfully communicate the what, the why and the how of their longer-term vision and be able to take commercially smart, calculated risks. To do this they need to be able to anticipate and read the industry ‘system’ and help their organisation be ready to adapt relevant products, processes and ways of working.

They need to be skilful coaches, creating an interdependent environment where people are committed to a high quality of work, in a place where they can be their best. The CEO and their leadership team, while being realistically optimistic, also need to model authenticity and help employees connect to the organisation’s purpose.

(See Dwight’s profile here)

Harry Palmer
Harry Palmer (Account Executive)

I think it comes down to accessibility. A CEO who makes time to have meaningful conversations with anyone in their organisation, regardless of whether they are C-suite or entry level, demonstrates an open culture in which hierarchy shouldn’t be a barrier to communication.

(See Harry’s profile here)

Lorraine Callaway
Lorraine Callaway (Head of Finance)

All too often, companies can treat their staff like cogs in a machine. In my experience, the best CEOs treat employees with the same respect that they give to every other stakeholder.

If an employee is 100% proud of the brand, is given the tools they need to do the job well and gets treated well, they are going to be happy.

We all know that happy employees = happy customers, but equally unhappy employees can ruin a brand, not just for one customer but for many.

Rosie Scott
Rosie Scott (Marketing Manager)

For me, the best CEOs are the ones that really take the time to understand their employees and the roles they play throughout the whole organisation. This could mean that the CEO has worked their way up through the business, or simply that they take the time to listen to their employees. It’s so important to hear directly from them what’s happening on the frontline as well as to value the contribution they’re making.

I remember reading about a CEO of a retail company who spent time going out with drivers on deliveries. It really impressed on me the importance of staying in touch with the customer experience at the same time as valuing everyone within the organisation.

Sebastian Rivett
Sebastian Rivett (Client Services Co-ordinator)

I believe the mix of contagious passion and optimism are a couple of the pivotal values a perfect CEO should stand by. Additionally, balancing the ability of getting stuck in with day-to-day functions (helping all employees identify them), as well as being able to take a step back to make strategic decisions under pressure is what separates the good from the great.

Shalina Popat
Shalina Popat (Project Executive)

Demonstrating emotional intelligence at the same time as being courageous, charismatic and vulnerable encompasses a great CEO for me.

A good CEO must have the ability to connect to their employees throughout all levels of the organisation and lead with great strength and courage. However, a great CEO extends beyond this to reflect their vulnerability and human-side in creating a strong sense of comfortability and relatability to all they influence. 

Tina Oldham
Tina Oldham (Head of Culture and Engagement)

In my opinion, no person is really perfect. For me it is transparency, being authentic and being brave to be vulnerable about one’s imperfections that makes me trust and want to follow a leader. It is an openness to feedback, regardless to who gives it and the courage to fess up when you mess up.


As we can see, empathy, approachability and a tireless effort to bring employees along with you are all skills that come up time and again. These aren’t anything new, but Lane4’s latest research suggests that what makes a successful CEO is evolving.

CEOs now need to be much more aware of the impact that their business has on employees and wider society, and they need a clear purpose that guides their actions in that context. 

Navigating the ambiguity and complexity of the modern world requires self-awareness and an ability to make conscious choices about their actions.

To remain relevant, CEOs must be continually updating and adapting their skills in the face of change. Only then will they succeed in the long term.

You can read more about what makes leaders ready to face the future in our white paper.

How would you rate this content?

Want to know more about future-fit leaders? Read our white paper on the five paradoxical mindsets leaders need.

Access white paper