Which CEO type are you, and what culture do you nurture?

The race to the finish line in the world of business has many paradigms. Some CEOs focus on people, others on profit, and many others on philosophy. Here’s a ready reckoner to find out which type of CEO you are, and how each classification comes with its own positives.
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Most CEOs don’t consciously drive company culture. They delegate it to professionals who specialise in HR. But if you are a founder/managing director/CEO of a company with 100-1,000 people, you automatically have a huge impact on the culture of your company, whether you are aware of it or not.

What today’s competitive environment needs is a CEO that inherently understands the pull and push agenda, to drive growth, of the company and its people.

Beliefs drive thoughts, thoughts drive actions, and actions impact the company’s culture, one way or another. For instance, in a recent article, John Donahoe, who will take over as Nike CEO in January 2020 speaks of the leadership lessons he learnt on his first summer job for a beer distribution centre. It was about learning to be open to all kinds of people, getting along and never writing anyone off. The other important lesson was “presuming trust” to build a motivated team.

A recent Gartner survey revealed that growth continued to top the list of a CEO’s priorities in 2019 and 2020. The most notable change in comparison to last year’s results is that a growing number of CEOs also deem financial priorities important, especially profitability improvement, which can define what type of CEO you are.

Yet, no one blueprint fits all. There are different types of CEOs based on their inherent fundamental beliefs and what they impart. Here’s a ready reckoner to find out which types of CEO fits your leadership style.

1. People cost money

You believe in optimising labour cost and maximising productivity. You automate as much as possible. You strive towards standardising roles, responsibilities and processes so that any resource can be easily replaced with another resource from the market. You believe employees are focused on their own salary, benefits, perks and leisure time, and you can never fully satisfy them. You negotiate well and strike a delicate balance between the conflicting goals of employee and company interests.

You play the game well and are not worried about your established competitors. But at the back of your mind, you are worried that some new-kid-on-the-block might come and disrupt your business (and your entire industry). You wonder if there is a magic wand that can proactively reinvent your company and transform its employee culture. But having worked so hard to grow the company and keep your employees happy, you know cultural transformation is not easy and doubt it could even be impossible.

2. People are our assets

You believe in engaging and motivating your employees. You know very well, if they are not taken care of, they will not contribute or add value. The quality of your products or services will suffer, and customers will be usurped by competition. You devise incentive schemes and reward programmes to align the interest of the employees with the company’s goals and objectives.

You focus on taking care of your people assets because you know that they will produce profits and growth for your company.

You are constantly trying to drive innovation in various aspects of the business, but it is a very tiring process. You wonder what will happen to the company, if you are no longer around. You wonder if there is a magic wand that can institutionalise innovation and transform the company culture so it is always on a path of robust growth and success, independent of your presence or absence.

3. People are driven by purpose

If the purpose is meaningful, employees will put their heart and soul into their job, do more than what is expected of them, take ownership, and innovate without being asked. They will self-organise themselves into high performing teams, driven by a common purpose and shared vision.

You focus on defining the purpose and vision. You set company goals not based on sales or profit numbers, but by the quantum and intensity of the impact your products and services create in the world. You sell those impact goals to your people. They go and figure out a way to execute and achieve those goals. You don’t consider people as employees but partners in a mission. You take extra care to hire only those people who align with your company’s mission and culture.

You have an empowered team that can achieve whatever goals you give them. Yet, they still look up to you for guidance and direction, particularly when it comes to what’s next. You wish you could wave a magic wand and see the future to know if what is motivating today will still be there tomorrow. That question, “What next?” keeps you up at night.

4. People are the purpose

For as long as businesses have grown from a proprietorship or partnership to a company, the “COMPANY” has been recognised as an independent entity. Like a person. Legally, it is a judicial person that can sue and be sued. So if someone asked, “What is the purpose of a COMPANY?”, most answer (rather unconsciously) that its purpose is to make money and profits and growth. The people, materials, machines and finances were considered as resources you use, to achieve the purpose of profits and growth.

But rarely do we step back and ask what the purpose of profits and growth is? Of course, one can say that it is to benefit people and society, but it is ultimately the people who impact people. That is why companies exist. To create a positive impact on people and society. Not by charity. But through their products and services.

So you have realised that people are the primary purpose and money, profits and growth are just the means.

While the company may be producing goods and services to deliver value to customers, vendors and shareholders, the primary purpose of your company is to grow people. Your magic wand would remove the outside pressures of society and allow your team to focus on their work without distractions.

People love to work for you, because you allow them to find or create their own purpose and meaning. They celebrate work and enjoy what they do. They innovate and create a multitude of high-impact products and services that you yourself could never imagine or dream of. Individually and as teams, they create and deliver outcomes that are disruptive, path-breaking and audacious.


Depending on which of the above four paradigms you believe in, your company culture will also be shaped by that paradigm. None of these four belief systems are inherently superior or inferior to one another, but you can see, the one that you believe in, permeates through the entire organisation.

What kind of leader do you want to be? What kind of culture do you want? The answers to these questions are paramount to seeing a company and its people grow.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

(Edited by Suruchi Kapur- Gomes)


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