Four Things Every CEO under 40 Should Be Doing

The average age of a Fortune 500 CEO is 58 – only five are under 45 and only two are under 40. Those two lucky ones are Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Keith Cozza (Ichan Enterprises). According to statisticbrain.com, Fortune 500 CEOs are, on average, six feet tall, 165 of them hold an M.B.A. and 38 went to Harvard.

But what if you’re not Zuckerberg or Cozza? What if you’re like me, a young CEO of a small to mid-size organizations trying to leave your mark?

If you’re doing these four things you can help create a larger impact on your organization, even if you’re not a giant with a prestigious degree from an elite university.

1. Make self-awareness a priority

You can’t drink your own Kool Aid all the time. You have to know your strengths, weaknesses and assets. More importantly, you have to embrace them. An impressive degree from a top business school doesn’t mean you are going to be a perfect CEO – you also need a high degree of emotional intelligence.

The five components of emotional intelligence, as laid out by psychologist Daniel Goleman, allow an individual to recognize, connect and learn from their own mental state, in addition to those surrounding them:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

It’s these tools that help me to encourage others and push them to realize their fullest potential and capitalize on every opportunity. Emotional intelligence is one of the most important components of a successful CEO. Make it a priority and it will spread through your team, elevating everyone.

2. Have an appetite for risk

At times, being a CEO can be lonely. At the end of the day, it is you and you alone having to make decisions that affect your entire team.  Often you have to trust your instincts and take risks. I know, easier said than done.

Lou Leone, founder of Leadinary, an executive coaching firm for startups says doing this consistently over time will help you recognize patterns and as a result, your decision making will become sharper and “your gut starts getting better at doing what’s right for you.”

Think back to all the times you trusted your instincts in the past and what the outcome was. “When you experience positive outcomes, it creates a positive feedback loop,” Leone explains.

Don’t second guess yourself, or fall into the self-doubt spiral.  Stand confident in your ideas – it will set an example for your team and show them you are worthy of their trust.

3. You’re never too old to ask questions

I became a CEO at 24. I wasn’t qualified or ready, but someone took a chance on me and I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass me by. I soon realized that, because of my age, people were willing to answer my questions as long as I was willing to ask them.

As you get older, that changes, people expect you to know more. According to a study done by the University of Virginia, adults ask fewer questions because we passively accept things for “what they are” instead of challenging them. Take advantage of the fact that you are young – while the pressure may be sky-high, you are still the underdog and people want to root for you.

4. Next versus best

As a CEO, it’s easy to become attached to what’s been done before. I get that  but it falls to you to drive ideation and creativity. Find the area where you can be the most effective without falling into the trap of “we’ve always done it this way”.

As a leader you have to be the force for helping people look at opportunities in new ways and get excited about branching out new paths.  More often than not, executives get wrapped up in the idea of best practices instead of focusing on next practices. Start creating next practices. You may just surprise yourself.


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