One Harvard study collected data from 27 CEOs of billion-dollar companies to identify their work habits.

The result was nothing short of surprising:

CEOs, on average, worked:

  • 79% of all weekend days
  • 70% of their vacation days
  • 62.5 hours per week

C-level executives are the real superheroes.

As a CEO myself, I’m here to break down everything you need to know about the C-suite:

  • the most common C-level job titles (and what superhero they represent)
  • the 10 best habits of successful CEOs

But first, you might be wondering…

What Is a C-Level Executive? (Definition)

A C-level or C-suite executive is one of the highest-ranking members of any organization. They are senior executives and often make decisions that influence a large area or department within the company.

Basically, they’re the commanders in an army.

They’ve also got the “C” in their name, which refers to the fancy rank of “Chief.” Depending on their job role, C-level executives often have one of many job titles in the C-suite.

The 8 Most Common C-Level Positions

If C-Level Executives were Superheroes

While there are dozens of corporate titles, here are the 8 most common you’ll find in any large company:

  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

Everyone pretty much knows this title. CEOs are the Chief Executive Officers and the top dogs of a company. They usually have the final say in making complex, strategic decisions. CEOs call the shots when deciding a new direction a company should take, and often you’ll see them as the “face” of a company.

Popular CEOs you may know include:

  • Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook
  • Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla
  • Me! CEO at Science of People
Vanessa Van Edwards on the stage talking
  • Chief Operation Officer (COO)

If Batman was the CEO, then Robin would be his COO.

COOs are the Chief Operating Officers of a company and are usually the second-highest in power, right after the CEO. COOs are in charge of daily operations of a business (read: making sure stuff doesn’t hit the fan).

They normally work on recruiting new employees, training, production, and making decisions on revenue. They’ll also typically cross over to other departments, keeping in touch and making sure they’re on the right track.

  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

The CFO, or Chief Financial Officer, is in charge of… you guessed it: finance. CFOs know finance inside and out, and their strengths help advise the CEO of financial risks and rewards. CFOs are essential to any business—if nobody tracks money, then a company might as well invest it in lollipops.

Typical duties for a CFO include managing a company’s portfolio, accounting, financial reporting, and managing financial records.

  • Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

A CTO is the trend-setter of a company, staying updated on the latest technologies. They’re the ones that control all technological things, decide if new technology should be used, and make sure that technology used actually works.

Smaller companies will often combine the CIO and CTO since they’re both tech-related.

  • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

Combine amazing social, selling, and marketing skills, and you’ve got the CMO. CMOs are in charge of making sure the company has a good reputation in the public eye. They make strategic decisions on branding, advertising, and marketing and are the head of entry-level marketers and salesmen.

  • Chief Content Officer (CCO)

Essentially, the CCO’s role is to dish out excellent, engaging media. This can be in the form of blog posts (like this one!), advertisements, pictures, and audio. CCOs are masters at knowing how to execute and implement content. They track metrics, coordinate efforts from lower-level employees, and make sure all content is produced smoothly.

  • Chief Information Officer (CIO)

CIOs are the brainy bunch of the crew—they lead IT decision-making and spearhead a team of IT specialists to implement strategic digital tasks.

They’re also talented at coding and other computer-related skills. Because their main goal is to improve processes within a company so things run smoothly, they tend to focus their efforts within the company rather than focusing on customers.

  • Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) or Chief People Officer (CPO)

Ahh, who doesn’t love HR? CHROs run HR for an organization, which means they are the “people’s” C-level executive. They hire talented people, train them, and make sure that they stay with the company by providing a company experience that makes them feel included.

They also develop strategies for hiring, structure career development paths, and ensure diversity in the workplace.

10 Habits of Successful C-Level Executives

Want to know how the successful Cs get it done? Here are 10 habits that lead them to success (#3 is my favorite!) Starting with:

Goal Wheel

Creel Price quote about CEOs

Successful CEOs know the ins and outs of goal setting and review their list religiously.

Even I used to write down my daily goals in the morning with a pencil and paper, like this:

C-level executive's hand, writing a goal list

…Until I figured out there’s a better way to do things.

Not all goals are created equal.

Here’s what I mean:

Have you ever set up a goal—or many goals—and didn’t quite finish your list?

It may be because just fantasizing about our goals “tricks” our brain into thinking we already achieved them.

Just like eating cake before dinner. We “feel” satisfied, even if we didn’t receive the proper nutrients.

So it’s more than just writing down your goals. Goals that aren’t set up properly CAN backfire against you, and this is common among beginners who start goal-tracking.

Here’s my favorite technique for setting measurable goals that WORKS:

Goal Wheel Setting

I also have a science-backed framework for more advanced goal-setting:

Try one of them out to see which you prefer.

Read with Intention

Mark Cuban's CEO quote

You’ve probably heard about the importance of reading. Some big executives even take it to the extreme:

I want you to set a daily reading goal. Just 2 pages or 10 minutes a day is all it takes. And if you’re reading this now, congrats! This totally counts toward your reading time.

But it’s not only about what you read but also what you SHOULDN’T read.

Like *shudders* Twilight. Ew.

Here are some tips to take advantage of your precious reading time:

  • Cut the crap. Avoid negative news, reading without purpose, and texts that don’t “click.” Time is limited, and you’re better off reading books that you enjoy and can learn from—and this means not feeling guilty about book-swapping for a more interesting one.
  • Be career-specific. Are you in cybersecurity, finance, or a similar rapidly changing field? Keeping up-to-date with these will greatly improve your expertise in the field and keep you churning out brilliant, new ideas that C-level execs are known for.
  • Listen to audiobooks. Studies show that audiobooks are as good as reading. Listen to your favorite audiobooks while driving, cooking, going for a jog, or even during bedtime to be a constant learner.
  • Replace the night-time phone with a book. Seriously, this tip has dramatically increased the number of pages I read daily. I typically spend a half hour on an easy book to help wind down at night.
  • Set the mood. My reading time looks more like a ritual. I sit in my favorite reading chair, have a cup of Earl Grey tea on my desk, and sometimes I even have candles. This primes me to be in my ultra reading mood for those longer reading sessions.

Use the 70/30 Approach

Tom Cotney's quote on C-level executives

In a nutshell, the 70/30 approach is a way to combat indecision.

Instead of loading your brain with everything you can find under the sun, get more comfortable making decisions with only 70% of the information.

A wise person doesn’t know everything; only fools know everything.

Some of you might wonder, “But why not get all the info!?”

Similar to Pareto’s principle, you can achieve 80% of the results with just 20% of the effort. So the bottom line is the last 30% of info just isn’t worth it.

That’s why many successful CEOs seem to just “know” everything—the reality is they don’t. They’re just quicker to make decisions, instead of trying to get that last 30%.

The Beginner Effect

Sara Blakely's quote on C-level executives

Are you in an entry-level position in a big company? It might even feel daunting trying to climb up that corporate ladder—especially when most people finally become CEOs after a sluggish 24 years.

But if you’re a beginner? You’ve got an open mind—ready to rock ’n’ roll and conquer the world!

Beginners are often more creative, open-minded, and passionate when starting in a company.

CEOs know this, and that’s why they always seek opinions. They know the value a pair of “fresh eyes” can have for the company, and successful CEOs are always looking for feedback and new angles that can potentially be a huge success.

So if you’re a beginner, don’t be afraid to speak out and voice your opinions—this might give you a competitive edge in your workspace. And if you’re a manager or C-level expert, it might be a good idea to stay humble and take some advice from newbies.

Catch the Worm

L. Rafael Reif's quote on CEOs

Have you heard of Tim Cook’s crazy morning routine? If you’re in the know, you’re familiar with how the Apple CEO gets up before 4 a.m.

And I know what you’re thinking:

“I love getting up at 4 a.m..!”—said no one ever.

But real people have tried replicating Cook’s insane wake-up time… and there were mixed results:

  • Dave Johnson over at Business Insider tried this routine for a week. He loved his newfound productivity and permanently changed his wake-up time to 4:30.
  • Wanda Thibodeaux over at Inc did it for a year. She ultimately decided to quit because she gained weight, couldn’t think, and felt sluggish throughout the day.

So what gives?

It turns out it’s not so much about waking up early or going to bed late but more about the hours of productivity you can reap from being up when everyone else is sleeping.

No wonder Batman got a lot done.

Science even shows you can go to bed pretty much any time you want, as long as you have a consistent schedule.

So what’s the bottom line?

Sleep early, or sleep late. But make sure you’ve got that sweet alone time to set yourself up for success.

Productive Play Breaks

Dan Hogan's quote on C-level executives

You’re staring at your list of daily to-dos, you’ve prepared a cup of joe to freshen up your day, aaaand…

Brain fart.

If you’re anything like me, productivity comes in lapses and is easy to wash away. Fortunately, play is a great way to bring your productivity back.

Science shows that playing reduces daily stress and increases psychological and physical health. And the best benefit?

Playing is just so darn FUN!

After I’ve made play a part of my work breaks, I swear my creativity has skyrocketed and my writer’s block has almost completely vanished.

Here are some ways I play during my short breaks:

  • bounce a tennis ball
  • basketball with my old notes
  • Post-it note hide-and-seek with my daughter
  • coloring some old books
  • turning on my favorite tunes and going wild
  • tickle fight with my hubby
  • 10 jumping jacks every time I turn on the news and hear a number
  • do some magic or other productive thing
  • make time for a team-building activity

If you’re lucky enough to work in a company that prioritizes a play culture, you might find these helpful. Otherwise, you may want to stick to old-fashioned doodling.

Yes Attitude

“If all it takes is an angry stranger to ruin your day, what are you going to do if something really serious happens? Why give someone else control of your life like that?” — Jeffrey Gitomer, founder and CEO of Gitomer Learning Academy

How positive are you? On a scale of 0-100, rate yourself:

I am positive __% of the time.

If that number needs a boost, we’ve got some work to do!

And it’s no joke when I say that a positive attitude is literally essential to be successful. As a business owner, mother, and wife, I know too well that staying happy takes hard work.

A positive attitude is the precursor to success.

…But it’s work well-invested—there’s a science of happiness and a reason top C-level executives seem to be happy all the time.

Need a happiness boost? Try:

If you want more advice, I’ve got a whole article on that:

How to Love Yourself in 17 Ways (Even If You Don’t Know How)

Exercise Daily

Richard Branson's quote on C-level executives

Whether you decide to grab the chocolate bar or kale, or choose between sleeping in or going for the morning run, there’s no doubt that exercise is essential for success.

The way you treat your body is the way you treat life.

There’s really no better way to train your mental strength, stay healthy, and commit to a higher goal than daily exercise.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.”

That’s why people who are already rich (or will become successful) will always prioritize exercise and health:

  • Mark Cuban loves kickboxing and Latin fusion classes, playing baseball, and going on the elliptical and stair gauntlet.
  • Oprah commits to getting in 10,000 steps a day, or about 5 miles.
  • Jessica Alba does yoga and Israeli martial arts.

Whatever your exercise jam, try to be consistent with a daily practice.

Aim for the Stars

Ingvar Kamprad's quote on C-level executives

Every day, you hit the reset button. Every top CEO knows this, and every top CEO strives to become better than yesterday.

After all, even achievement is just part of the journey.

This doesn’t mean to forgo the minirewards throughout your day. It just means that you CAN develop a lifelong growth mindset that sticks—even beyond retirement.

Change Your Mindset: Successful people don’t just aim for the finish line. Successful people know there is no finish.

Jump Out of the Airplane

Reed Hastings quote about CEO

Here’s a powerful story that made me the successful business owner I am today.

Over 10 years ago, I was at a networking conference where I met an unconventional man named Mark. He was unconventional in many ways—the way he dressed (he wore a plain cotton shirt while everyone else dressed up), the way he skipped the formalities, the way he disagreed with conventional thinking.

And by picking his brain, I learned that he came from a poor family in Goa… but ultimately jumped the gun and dropped out of college, turned down a stable job offer, and built his 6-figure business he has today.

Yes, it was one of those stories of rags to riches you only hear about in books and TV.

But hearing it in real life? Seeing the person behind those crazy stories in front of me?

That changed my life forever.

Mark’s story was one of the reasons why I went full time building my business at Science of People, and I have to credit him for taking the leap.

Thanks, Mark!

Finally, if you want to become a successful CEO (or at least develop rock-solid habits), I want you to take one small step today. Don’t wait. Implement ONE of these tips today to get the ball rolling.

What is your favorite tip on this list? Do you have any other CEO tips? Let me know down below!

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

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