Tolulope Adedeji shares the characteristics of successful female CEOs

By Tolulope Adedeji

Tolu is a business, marketing and management professional with 15 years experience across multiple brands and countries. She is currently the Marketing Director for West Africa at Ab inbev.


Within Africa, the trend is analogous reinforced by a disproportionate masculine culture. The maximum potential doesn't necessarily translate to company captainship for everyone and this is perfectly fine. Everyone cannot be CEO, but everyone can be the very best of themselves.

Before evaluating the key characteristics of Successful CEOs,  it is essential to grasp that the job of the CEOs is limited to less than 0.1% of any large corporation so it intrinsic that the very best within that organization secure the role. Gender is not a requirement. Rather, it is Competence, Character and Commitment (The famous 3Cs). It is a fiercely competitive destination and those who embrace this realism have a shot.

Having secured the role, a CEO whether female or male knows that what got them the CEO roles will not keep them there. There is a lot more required.

Some of these characteristics are:


1.       Ability to staff and lead the right team:

A leader without followers is merely taking a walk. Creating and nurturing a team that runs like a well lubricated machine is the first role of a CEO. Some organizations have leadership teams that consists of brilliant individuals that make up a collective disaster (where the team members are focused on personal vendettas and personal motives). A CEO must be able to staff fantastic team players and exit weaklings fast. A CEO needs to be 100% focused on the company vision, strategies and winning externally and cannot afford quenching internal squabbles. It is just too expensive a cost to carry. This may seem like an easy task but it is not, given unpredictable human behaviour.

2.       Technical mastery:

A CEO's job is primarily to create and share value. Value for shareholders via dividends and asset appreciation, for consumers with winning portfolio offerings and for employees via competitive salaries and bonuses.  To achieve these, a successful CEO needs proficiency in financial acumen, business strategies, Leadership, consumer and customer understanding, innovation and previous board experience. This doesn't mean mastery of all these skills but there should be good cognition of the fundamentals.



3.       Personality Fit:

Imagine you need to choose to invest between two companies. Company X has a CEO that is decisive, bold, accountable, disciplined, visionary, optimistic, emotionally stable, listens and inspires the organization whilst CEO of company Z is erratic, cannot decide, timid, pessimistic, throws tantrums, reckless and is impossible to work with. Which company will you invest in? I expect the majority to pick company X. This shows that there is a preferred personality for CEO roles.


4.       Inspiring Leadership presence:

This is a very important characteristic to succeed. The CEO is the chief PR employee of any organization. The job is heavy on human interactions- both internally and externally. Externally with investors, shareholders, government, customers, consumers and more. Internally, with employees. A typical business has its highs and lows as defined by the product life cycle. A successful CEO must be able to inspire positivity and belief especially when the business dips and retain both employees' and investors' confidence. He/she must have great communication skills and that * Je ne sais quoi* factor.


Specifically for women, the additional highlight is extreme persistence. A CEO appointment may occur within corporate organizations after about 20-25 years of climbing the corporate ladder. For females, this is particularly challenging because of the years of mothering during career growth.  Many females drop off the ladder due to the pressure of combining multiple pregnancies, maternity breaks and child care. For an average African woman with 4.5 births, this means at least 12 months of maternity leave, 12 months of 'reduced hours' post maternity and at least 24 months of combining breastfeeding and working C-Suite presentations.

So, to every woman reading this with the ambition of being a CEO, I wish you an extra dose of persistence and resilience. We all need it. To everyman working with a woman with ambition, continue to show a little bit of kindness and fair competition.


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