Eight CEO types and how to improve your influence with your CEO

3 minute read

If you understand your chief executive’s type, you will work with them better and gain more influence. In the first of a new series with ThePeopleSpace, top CEO coach Steve Tappin shares his insights on CEO types

Sian Harrington

Steve Tappin knows a thing or two about chief executives. As a CEO coach, the host of the BBC World television series CEO Guru, author of The Secrets of CEOs and The Secrets of Chinese CEOs and a top 100 LinkedIn influencer, he has delved into the minds of some of the world’s top CEOs and found distinct types, each with a different set of motivations, strengths and challenges.

According to Tappin, most CEOs are professional managers, not leaders. Two-thirds of professional managers know about business plans, budgets and management and do well in a booming economy but struggle when things are volatile – which of course is the new norm in business. The remaining third of CEOs do a good job and within these, there are eight distinct types.

As an HR director, it is important you understand what type of CEO you have so you can understand how HR fits into that CEO’s leadership. Will they want you to be a confidant, an educator or an executor?

In the first of a new video series with ThePeopleSpace, Tappin outlines the eight CEO types.



    Meg Whitman, ex CEO HP

    Example: Meg Whitman, former CEO, Hewlett Packard
    Traits: The motivation of this type of CEO is to win. They’re focused on the metrics and the numbers and very committed to their success.
    Challenges: The challenge this type of CEO often faces is around building cultures and innovating.


    Guo Guangchang, chairman Fosun International

    Example: Guo Guangchang, chairman, Fosun International
    Traits: This CEO type is all about creating shared value. They are focused on earnings per share, doing deals and creating value.
    Challenges: For this CEO type, the human aspect of business is where the challenge is.


    Dominic Barton, global managing partner emeritus McKinsey

    Example: Dominic Barton, global managing partner emeritus, McKinsey
    Traits: These CEOs are very good at connecting, with a global outlook and strong geopolitical understanding. Challenges: Corporate ambassadors tend to struggle with the operations of business and how to bring all the various partners together.


    Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon

    Example: Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder, Amazon
    Traits: He's there, he wants to build value. He's obsessive about customers. He's got his rules of working at Amazon that really worked for him. He takes a bold long-term view. He doesn't care what other people think. He's successful.
    Challenges: The challenge for Bezos, and other corporate entrepreneurs, is sustaining the culture and avoiding conflicts with other stakeholders because, in the mind of this type of CEO, they know best.


    Howard Schultz, chairman emeritus, Starbucks

    Example: Howard Schultz, chairman emeritus, Starbucks
    Traits: The people champion is all about getting the right people, building the right culture and knowing that will get the right result.
    Challenges: The challenge for the people leaders is around some of the commercial tensions and making the right cut-through decision.


    Richard Branson, founder, Virgin Group

    Example: Richard Branson, founder, Virgin Group
    Traits: Branson is a great example of a global missionary. Early on he was an entrepreneur but increasingly now he's got a mission to change the world, to push the boundaries of mankind. Think of Virgin Galactic. This type of CEO likes exploring, pioneering and wants to use their position and organisation as a vehicle to change the world. Global missionaries are great at connecting lots of people and creating close fellowships.
    Challenges: The challenge is what happens when they aren't there? Is the business sustainable?


    Walter Robb, former co-CEO, Whole Foods Market

    Example: Walter Robb, former co-CEO, Whole Foods Market
    Traits: This CEO type is driven in terms of the conscious development of business and the longer-term synergies between the different businesses. They have a sort of high-end spiritual orientation to business and life.
    Challenges: The challenge for conscious capitalists people is how do they work in complicated commercial transactions and situations that can be more difficult?


    Elon Musk, CEO SpaceX, Tesla and Neuralink. Copyright Steve Jurvetson https://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/18659265152

    Example: Elon Musk, CEO SpaceX, Tesla and Neuralink
    Traits: Elon Musk is a great example of this CEO type. He's gone into lots of different businesses. These people are very strong at inventing new things.
    Challenges: The question sometimes is just the reality of when to bring them in. Also it’s a question of whether their timing is right and whether they have the cash to actually realise their ambitions.

Once you know about the different CEO types, the important thing is to understand what's your own CEO type or, if you are an HR leader, your CEO’s type. The best CEOs normally have one two, maybe three CEO types. And if you have a dominant type of CEO with some weaknesses, you will need to balance the rest of your team so you can be successful overall.

Published 25 July 2018
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