3 Things Good CEOs Do and Don’t Do

By Sam Reese

During every cross country race in college, no matter how far ahead I got, my running coach would scream: “Don’t be content!” I would get frustrated with him. After a race, I once asked him if there was ever a time in life that he’d want me to be content?

“No, never be content,” he said. “Always try to improve.”

That line has stuck with me my whole life. The goal of effective CEOs is to continue to improve day after day and never be comfortable with the status quo for your company or yourself. Here are three quick dos and don’ts for CEOs who are on the path.


  1. Keep everyone energized and committed to the purpose of the company and use that as the fuel that keeps everybody rolling. When you are clear about purpose, it invites every single employee, every customer and every supplier to make sure you’re doing what you said you’d do. And it creates a true north star that’s the foundation of integrity and trust in your business.
  2. Align the team around strategy, culture, organization, results, and execution. It’s important to always stretch people to get the goals you’re after. But you’ve got to make sure employees are equipped with the right tools, resources and plan to get there. And always make sure the organization and culture are where they need to be. If culture isn’t where you need it to be, it won’t matter what your organization looks like. You won’t get the results, and you’ll never execute with precision.
  3. Listen to objective perspectives from people you trust. CEOs sometimes develop confirmation bias and seek the easy places to get answers that validate their points of view. Avoid situations where you listen to people who just tell you what you want to hear. It may make you feel smart and like you have all the right ideas, but it keeps you from seeing important pitfalls or better solutions. Good CEOs listen to contrary beliefs—both inside and outside their companies—so they understand the full picture.


  1. Tolerate executives within your organization who take the shortcut to leadership. What I mean by that specifically is people who care more about their own personal credibility than what the company is really trying to accomplish. When things are not going well, some executives will take the path of: “Well, I don’t know what the company is doing, but my team is doing great.” That only develops a counterculture within organizations.
  2. Allow for excuses. Excuses breed failure. By not having excuses, you get creative. You think about ways to manage through challenges, and your goals stay the same. If you start with a list of excuses, the team is going to quit the first time they hit an obstacle. If you don’t have excuses, you can accomplish great things even in tough times and changing markets.
  3. Create multiple stories about performance. It’s dishonest. You’ll end up losing transparency and respect when the truth comes out. You have to just have one story for your team, staff and stakeholders, and the one story has to be the truth.

The more I work with executives and the more I work on my own development as a CEO, these lessons remain true. Being a great CEO isn’t something anyone is born to do, because the challenges of a company, its culture and economic cycles always stay in flux.

It’s a race. Good CEOs are mindful of the health of their team and aware of their competition. They are neither above nor afraid of doing the hard work. They don’t allow themselves to be content. And they always try to improve.

Sam Reese is CEO of Vistage, the world’s largest CEO coaching and peer advisory organization for small and midsize businesses. Over his 35 year career as a business leader, Sam has led large and midsize organizations and has advised CEOs and key executive of companies all over the world. To learn how a peer advisory group can help you navigate challenges, make better decisions and achieve growth, visit vistage.com.

Dos and Don’ts stock photo by Artur Szczybylo/Shutterstock