The core skills every CEO needs

CEOs need to learn, too. Here’s what Luis Alvarez Satorre has picked up in his time in top business positions.

When I started as a CEO, I realised that I was not completely ready for the job. As I carried out the assignment, I discovered a set of skills I needed to develop. Some of them might be natural to you but others require proper training and learning. The relevance of each skill will also depend on the context in which you find yourself.

These are the 15 core skills which will make you successful. You should be:

Strategic thinker

You should design the future, rather than waiting for it. There will be events in the market, new technologies or moves by your competitors. Opportunities will emerge and risks will be more visible. This privileged perspective will permit you to modify the course of your corporate journey.


A successful CEO should be obsessed with providing the highest level of service, with winning in the market, with recruiting the best talent. You should develop a fanatic belief in your core principles, live your values and execute considering every single detail.


It means taking a proactive attitude towards everything you do and transforming issues into opportunities. A positive can-do approach will make a difference to everyone around you.


To deal with challenges, enjoy opportunities, drive transformation and lead your team, you need to have passion for your job. Passion is about putting your heart behind your actions and commitments.


I found the CEO job incredibly intellectually demanding. But it is also physically and emotionally demanding. It means that you must reach a fine balance between all the aspects of your life: mind, body and soul.


I have experienced the importance of taking the time to inspire people. As a CEO, you must be able to inspire all kinds of stakeholders. The shadow you cast is larger than you think. Inspiration can be driven as much, or even more, with what you do as with what you say. 

Curious listener

The CEO must be an active listener. It is the best way to learn about the business, and get feedback from customers and your people. Use questions to make better decisions based on gathering information from diverse sources.

Humble to learn

To be a great CEO, you should also develop the power of being humble. It means being open to changing your mind. It means you acknowledge that others may know more than you, and that even if they think differently to you, they can be right.


A leader who is close to the team would gain their support more easily than a distant one. To create empathy, link into what motivates people. They want to know the person behind the job.


Being connected to the outside world is necessary to keep your feet on the ground. Develop your network throughout your career and take care of it. Every conversation matters.


Time is your most scarce resource. If you are not focused and disciplined, you will generate chaos around you and have a negative multiplier effect on the organisation. Learn to say no.


Having the final say is one of your privileges as CEO. You must choose sensible inputs, and facilitate time for discussion. Then, you should be decisive. As a CEO, you are not leading a democracy. 


The CEO should generate a healthy demanding environment. Requests may seem unreasonable at first glance. However, pursuing them can result in dramatically improved performance. The CEO should develop a methodology and an instinct to drive demanding but fair targets. 


A key skill to develop is an entrepreneurial mind-set. Being ready to take risks, be prepared to fail fast and to learn quickly. You have plenty of knowledge, which creates a sixth sense of what is right. This is close to what an entrepreneur would do. Be ready to use it.


There will always be difficult moments in your job. I believe that resilience is probably your most important power. As a leader, you will deal with uncertainty, which will affect your team. You will feel loneliness. Staying calm and looking ahead will be essential when it comes to keeping your team together in those storms.


Being a CEO is not just a job. You must make it personal to deliver at your best. The power behind your actions should come from you heart and your strongest values. These core skills will facilitate your mission.


About the author

Luis Alvarez Satorre has spent over 30 years in leadership roles and is author of Becoming a 3D CEO.




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