What makes a CEO a tech-talent magnet?

It is widely assumed that as the head of the organisation, the CEO shapes the perception people have of it. Their face is the most prominent and visible to all, if well-regarded, their organisations’ reputation is enhanced, as is their ability to attract and retain the best talent. But what makes one tech CEO more highly regarded than another?

In 2010, Warren Buffett said, “We can afford to lose money – even a lot of money. But we can’t afford to lose reputation – even a shred of reputation.” Few would dare argue with that, and the research supports this view. According to The Company Behind the Brand, the reputation of senior management teams account for 60% of the organisation’s market value. Attracting and retaining that management team is the CEOs main responsibility.

40% of business leaders rank corporate reputation as the number one boardroom risk.

Against this backdrop, it is easy to see why research conducted by Deloitte/Forbes found that 40% of business leaders rank corporate reputation as the number one boardroom risk. Responsibility for shaping this reputation lies with the CEO.

So, unless they have the profile of Jack Ma, Satya Nedella, Musk or Bezos, how can tech leaders improve their ability to attract the talent needed, enabling them to gain that all-important competitive edge?

At the risk of appearing old beyond my years, I have been fortunate to work with some of the fastest-growing and most innovative tech companies in the UK and internationally for the best part of 20 years. During that time, you come to appreciate that every CEO has their own leadership style. There is also a pattern of behaviour that makes them aspirational and influential ambassadors for their organisations, elevating them as an employer of choice. For any organisation this is important, but for high-growth companies without a brand, this leadership attraction factor is critical.

An exceptional CEO is self-aware, modest and confident in their abilities without the need for self-aggrandising. Many are introverted and quiet, in fact quite the contrary to the loud emotional leader that would whip staff to work harder.

Indeed, to quote Simon Sinek, leaders eat last. The most successful CEO talent magnets we observed and partnered with are humble in nature and sacrifice their own interests for the greater good. An exceptional CEO is self-aware, modest and confident in their abilities without the need for self-aggrandising. Many are introverted and quiet, in fact quite the contrary to the loud emotional leader that would whip staff to work harder.

In the book ‘From good to great’ the great leaders put the company first, themselves last.

Self-awareness around their own weaknesses is another key characteristic shared by the most magnetic of tech CEOs. Building on the humble theme, these leaders know they don’t have all the answers, know their strengths and can identify their own weaknesses. In doing so, they look to hire people who can plug the gaps in their own skillset and complement themselves to broaden the organisations talent magnetism. This makes team members feel important and impacful which are key talent attraction factors.

In today’s competitive global tech marketplace, time is becoming an increasingly precious commodity. CEOs may have less of it than others within the organisation, but by being present and visible, leaders make the organisation seem more accessible.

This is an attractive feature for many, as Lindred Greer, professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford Graduate School of Business, said: “If there were a Nobel Prize for management, it would go to the person who finds an organisational structure that’s not based on vertical differentiation, on hierarchy, on leadership… there have to be ways to organise that don’t imply inequality and inequity – ways to organise that are more mutually respectful and reinforcing.”

Charisma is often associated with talent magnets. Not all leaders are charismatic, but we can learn from those who are and those who are less so.

Likewise, if the CEO exemplifies the company culture, its raison d’être and genuinely communicates its vision. Whether this is via social media, trade or national press, the company itself creates a perception of being engaging and values-based.

Charisma is often associated with talent magnets. Not all leaders are charismatic, but we can learn from those who are and those who are less so. Charisma is defined as 3 characteristics that all leaders have in more or lesser degree; warmth, presence and authority. By giving yourself a relative score on each you will know where you need to fill the gaps to create a charismatic team.

Indeed, research conducted by LinkedIn shows that 65% of candidates are deterred from applying to a company that doesn’t demonstrate its values. They want to get to ‘know’ their potential employer and their leadership style. A visible CEO creates a halo effect that positively impacts the perception of the organisation’s employer brand. For small start ups and scale ups, this is even more important and becomes a key tool in the race for the best talent. They have the benefit over major corporoates where hierarchy and silos gets in the way of presence and engagement with the CEO.


A clearly defined vision that everyone from cleaner to C-lever can get behind is a critical factor in attracting talent. But a CEO needs to show action and orientation to prove they can deliver on this vision. This in return creates a strong bond of trust with employees at all levels. Elon Musk is a great example of huge but clear vision with the ability to prove he can deliver time and again.

If the CEO adds being punctual, respecting senior candidate’s time and a sense of generosity to the mix, their stock and that of the business goes up a notch.

However, caution must prevail. Talent magnets can grow, but they die fast. So, while the CEO must deliver the performance of a lifetime as chief brand ambassador, it should not be a soliloquy. To ensure the organisation ends up on the winning side in the war for talent, support from elsewhere in the C-suite can be highly effective. Take Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg as a case in point.

As COO, Sandberg is one of the social media behemoth’s leading public figures and a widely recognised proponent of women in the tech space. This, by default, reflects positively on Facebook as an employer: If women like her are smashing the gender glass walls to reach the C-suite, then so can I and that’s the sort of employer I want to work with.

This concept of team is an important one. As Deutsche Post’s former CEO Klaus Zumwinkel suggested, “You need excellent individual players, but you also need players who are dedicated to playing as a team.” By empowering and making sure there is room for them, the best people do their best work, hereby CEO’s gain a personal reputation for boosting the careers of others and the brightest candidates will want to work for them.

Of course, the organisation itself has a role to play here, too. Those tech companies who succeed in positioning themselves as the employer of choice are clear in seven key areas: a well-defined corporate vision with a solid leadership structure, engaging and supportive culture, strong brand presence, clear strategy, unique product/service offering, scalable technology and the right investor to move the business forward.

Organisations are under increasing pressure to attract and retain the right talent for the right roles at the right time. It’s difficult when candidate pools are drying up fast and competition between employers intensifies. There are a plethora of candidate attraction tactics however the one that is often over looked is the role of CEO. The positive impact their visibility has cannot be understated.

The very act of applying some of the traits discussed above will shift some obstacles that lie in the way. A CEO’s number one role is to ensure the company maintains its talent magnet.

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