What are The Requirements to Be a CEO?


Beverly Lieberman,


Halbrecht Lieberman Associates

Boards of Directors who hire CEO's generally answer “experience”.  They seek candidates who have similar industry experience, come out of companies of comparable /or larger in size, have positive Wall Street/investor relations experience, have a "vision", leadership skills and a demonstrated ability to build an effective team. Educational credentials are usually required as well.

While all the above are important, an often unstated but vitally important element in the selection of  successful candidates is their perceived "fitness" for taking on the key assignment. Senior executive positions are difficult. They require long hours, intense focus, lots of travel, challenging business obstacles to deal with, etc. All of this cause mental and physical stress with its associated wear and tear.

While all agree that it is not appropriate to select candidates based on physical impressions, my experience in the many executive searches I have conducted is that the winning candidate has the “image" of energy, drive and the ability to withstand the work load. In the recruiting process, the Board members are curious to discover if the candidate has a routine work out program, plays tennis, jogs, golfs, etc. Of course, an executive's physical appearance gets noticed right away. While it is not legally appropriate that a candidate gets turned down because of physical attributes, the leaders of Fortune 500 companies most often possess "executive bearing", which implies an advantage to being physically fit and not significantly over weight.

Is physical appearance/fitness widely considered an indicator of potential success? While none of us want to admit it, the answer is a resounding "yes". We have historically looked up to people who are "tall and slim". Just think about it for a moment... look at the example of U.S. Presidents...JKF, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and the George Bush's. These men were/are all about 6' tall and trim. While talented executives will not all have the benefit of the perfect physical appearance, it is important to make a conscious effort to maximize your physical impact. This includes managing your physical fitness, your weight and paying close attention to your wardrobe in order to package yourself for success.


Hand in hand with physical fitness goes emotional and psychological fitness. The ability to focus, handle pressure, deal with complexity and ambiguity and multiple demands all cause stress. How does an executive deal with these issues? I find it very often the case that top executives have learned to use relaxation techniques such as meditation, short naps, walks and visual imagery to help out during working hours. Some executives make use of a coach or mentor. Some seek support, quietly, from psychologists. No matter which technique works best, it seems the case that it is imperative to utilize some resources to help minimize or relieve the stress.

There is a major theme today that will become increasingly prominent in the years ahead-- it is "work/life balance". The most advanced corporations have initiated Human Resource programs that promote this goal and help teach employees ways to achieve balance. These corporations are discovering the benefits of increased human performance and preservation of critical human resources.

And in order to attract the best candidates, I suggest that the Boards of Directors and top executives embrace the benefits of work and life balance and not only be supportive but be willing to act as role models. Young and middle age executives no longer plan to work 12 to 16 hours a day on an ongoing basis in order to advance their careers. Many executives are opting out of this. Some are even turning down promotions and relocations. Some are working flex hours and even staying home with the kids and letting their spouse take over the income earning roles. Creating a culture of fitness and performance will give a corporation an edge over those who focus on traditional methods.

We need to acknowledge that, in addition to experience, health and fitness are important elements to getting “the big job”. They are also critical elements in the success of an executive and the organization he or she leads. So, if you are not on a fitness for success program, get one started. It's a major factor in your success, your company's and your family's.