When asked to name high-profile CEOs, the majority of us can easily think of a list with a multitude of names: Arianna Huffington, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Susan Wojcicki. Yet, when asked to name even a few COOs, most people blank. That’s because chief operating officers are often the unsung heroes of the workplace. Their nebulous roles make them the least understood position in business today.
The internet is flooded with articles about how to be the next great CEO, but not much is written about the unique traits of COOs. Why is that? Perhaps because their roles are less understood and more diverse, and their responsibilities often fluctuate from company to company. Keith Rabois, the former COO of Square, compares the role of a COO much to that of a doctor in an emergency room—fixing what’s broken, assessing problems to determine what’s minor and what’s fatal, and being able to communicate with a variety of people.
A company’s success hinges just as much on the shoulders of a COO than its CEO. They strategize revolutionary approaches that keep their company one step ahead of the competition, they communicate with investors, and they help cultivate a winning culture for employees. They quite literally do it all. But it takes more than just business savvy to be a successful COO. When we talk about notable chief operating officers, we must also talk about these three traits:
While a COO’s day-to-day tasks vary, their larger goal is to get the most out of their company. They are faced with implementing creative solutions for a wide variety of processes, which means a significant portion of their day is built around decision-making. Some decisions may not result in favorable outcomes, but this is why persistence is so crucial. You’ll make mistakes, and that’s okay. Failure is part of the growing process; trying is what matters.
If you are a COO, you must be a people person. COOs are responsible for establishing systems to help the company and its employees operate more efficiently—it’s right there in their name. As such, they must communicate with people regularly, from upper management to entry-level staff. Their motivation stems from an ability to improve the everyday lives of the team. In some industries, a COO’s passion extends beyond their employees to the people their company affects. As the COO of DentServ, one of my biggest motivators is our patients. I want my company to succeed because when we win, our patients win.
Being obsessive-compulsive may not always be a positive trait, but it is one that has undeniably helped me grow as a COO. I refuse to accept mediocrity. When we accept second-rate outcomes, we demonstrate that we aren’t willing to work harder towards a better solution. I don’t want what is okay for our company, employees, and patients—I want what’s best. A good COO works tirelessly to ensure they are helping their company evolve into the next best version of itself.
COOs set the tone for the rest of the organization—how are your traits impacting the success of your company?