How to Think Like a CEO

Inside the Mind of Your CEO

What if you knew how to think like a CEO?  How would life at the office be different?

I never considered how to think like a CEO until one day I was in a bathroom stall in our corporate headquarters.  I heard the booming voice of our CEO in mid conversation…

CEO:  Who’s leading that project?  Seems like a sinking ship.

VP:  Ben Fanning

CEO: Better check on that one. It’s going to hit the numbers.

CEO: It’s just one thing after another.  Hope I can get out early today to catch my daughter’s soccer game.

I stayed in the stall until they left, then blasted out of there so fast I’m surprised the stall door didn’t fly off its hinges. I ran to my computer and typed up a report on the status of my project.

Although I never received a personal call from the CEO, I knew my response in that moment probably saved my job or at least saved me from a lot of stress (when the CEO saw the report, I wonder if he thought I was psychic?).

Thinking like a CEO is an important milestone for your career development.  It helps you anticipate requests from the corner office, think broadly about the possibilities of your work, drive more results, and get ahead in your career.

The CEO Is Human

Sometimes I ask clients who face a challenge at the office, “If this were your company, what would you do?”

Although intended to help clients consider the bigger picture, this sometimes stumps them. When you’ve been working as an employee all your life, it’s not so easy to start thinking like a CEO…speaking from personal experience.

Back then I was afraid of the CEO. He seemed to have supernatural powers to either make or break any career at any time. When you see CEOs in this light, it is impossible to relate to them.

In that moment though I realized the CEO was human.

He was concerned about whether he’d make his budget just like I was concerned about mine. The difference though was his budget was called “the bottom-line”.  And, he wanted to get out of the office a little early so he could make some space for the more important things in life…his daughter’s soccer game.

To start thinking like a CEO remind yourself the CEO is human; or as my Dad says, “They put their pants on one leg at a time, too”.

Three Ways to Think like a CEO

As I’ve worked with the C-Suite a bit more, I’ve begun to understand how to think like a CEO at a more in-depth level. Turns out this perspective can be helpful for everyone as you strive for more success.

  1. Think Return-on-Investment: When you think like a CEO, you know what your time is worth.  Review your schedule, meetings, and tasks and consider if they are generating a true return on your time and effort. For those that are not, consider how you might reduce or modify them to get more “return”.
  2. Distill Your Idea: There’s a reason it’s called an “Executive Summary”. Executives are bombarded all day emails and ideas and often try to sort and filter them by the main idea and priority.  This can really rub some employees the wrong way.  Years ago we joked that the CEO wanted our entire slide deck as just one big bullet. Of course, not long after that along came a company named Twitter and turned the idea into a business. Now I understand the power of having a message distilled to its essence. This makes your idea easier to understand and communicate to others.  It’s even more powerful if you can get the idea down to 140 characters or less.
  3. Frame Problems as OpportunitiesThere are enough complainers in life and plenty at the office. However, the complainers don’t realize that there’s a positive power in seeing problems as opportunities waiting to happen. The best CEOs always thinks of problems as opportunities.
  4. Bonus tip: Be careful what you say in the bathroom. You don’t know who might be listening! Of course, maybe he knew I was in there and that’s why he said it?

Now it’s time to put these ideas into practice. Select one idea above and work it into your day right now. Use it when you write your next email, have your next conversation, or plan your schedule for the afternoon.

To creating the job you love,


P.S: Download my free report, The Catastrophic Cost of Quitting: How Organizations and Employees Pay the Ultimate Price