5 Essential Traits of Every Successful COO

The role of a COO is indispensable, and it’s not just me who is saying that. 

My journey has brought me face-to-face with many people working in the operations field. A considerable number dream of ascending to the COO role. 

My mentees, primarily operation leaders, often echo this ambition. Through these interactions, it’s clear to me that there are distinct traits that set successful COOs apart.

Yet, many stumble on this journey, burdened by self-doubt. They mistakenly believe that those at the pinnacle of their careers were simply ‘born with it’ or got lucky. But this is a common misconception. Success isn’t about inherent talent; it’s about honing specific skills.

Others stray from their path, bypassing the wisdom of experienced mentors and missing out on invaluable insights.

The key to accelerating your journey? Learn from those who’ve reached the top. Mentorship, guidance, and a relentless drive for self-improvement form the bridge between ambition and realization.

To become a successful COO, you just need to understand what skills and traits to develop and a lot of discipline to make it happen.

So, what does it really take to stand out as a COO? Drawing from countless professional interactions and my drive to always learn, I’ve pinpointed traits that successful COOs invariably possess:

  • Bias toward action. This is non-negotiable.
  • Excellent project planning. Operations thrive on this.
  • Ability to shift between the big picture and details. Essential for strategic execution.
  • Resilience in the face of challenges. Because the road to the top can be challenging.
  • High emotional intelligence. A key differentiator in leadership.

Let’s look deeper into each one of these traits.

Bias toward action (more than anything)

In the entrepreneurial world, taking action is key.

While planning and strategizing form the backbone, it’s action that truly propels progress. Think of it this way: planning might lay out the path, but action accelerates you along it.

Personally, I’m an advocate for meticulous planning. Yet, I’d lean towards action when faced with a choice between planning and action. The reason? No amount of planning can match the progress achieved by taking concrete steps.

For a COO, the responsibilities are vast and multifaceted:

  • Long-term business planning and strategy to craft the roadmap for the company’s future.
  • Overseeing day-to-day for several departments to ensure seamless operations and efficient workflows.
  • Removing bottlenecks and solving urgent issues to tackle challenges that obstruct progress.
  • Decision-making while often having to make calls with incomplete information.

In such a dynamic role, hesitating or overthinking can lead to stagnation and overwhelm. Hence, a bias toward action is non-negotiable. As a leader, it’s essential to instill this proactive mindset within the team, ensuring that challenges are met head-on and the organization remains agile.

Excellent project planning

A COO is the ultimate project manager. They stand where big ideas meet implementation, ensuring all departments work together smoothly. A COO must know how long things will take and what they’ll need. 

But the real skill? Adjusting those plans with everyone involved to get the best results.

From overall company goals to specific projects, the COO is in the thick of planning. Their main job? Taking the company’s big dreams and making them real daily, using the right resources and tools, and sticking to a plan.

A great COO can turn a messy situation into a well-ordered one. They’re the glue holding everything together. Many successful COOs used to be project managers, so they’re natural pros at being responsible and taking charge.

Ability to shift between the big picture and details

A COO wears multiple hats. They’re not only strategizing from a bird’s-eye view but also zooming into the minute details that make the grand strategy work. This duality in perspective is what sets apart a good COO from a great one.

Most professionals excel either at the overarching vision or the meticulous details. However, the COO’s role demands proficiency in both. Why? Let’s break it down: 

  • Strategic insight.
    A COO participates in charting out the company’s journey, setting the destination, and envisioning the path.
  • Problem-solving.
    On a day-to-day basis, issues arise. A COO dives deep, untangles knots, and ensures smooth sailing.
  • Resource management.
    Especially in smaller businesses with limited resources, a COO doesn’t just direct; they roll up their sleeves and join the fray, making the most of what’s available.
  • Balanced decision-making.
    Decisions are informed by both the long-term vision and immediate realities. This ensures actions are rooted in the present but aligned with the future.
  • Bridge building.
    A COO translates the company’s goals into daily tasks for the team. Conversely, feedback from ground-level operations can lead to strategy tweaks.

Having the agility to shift between the macro and micro is a game-changer. It ensures that the COO can not only dream big but also act upon those dreams in tangible, effective ways.

Resilience in the face of challenges

Every business faces its share of challenges, and the COO stands on the frontline, leading the charge. Changes and setbacks aren’t just possibilities; they’re certainties. Market shifts, competition, unexpected crises – every business will face them.

But a standout COO isn’t one trying to dodge these obstacles. That’s unrealistic. Instead, they take the hit, bounce back, and steer the company forward. It’s resilience that makes the difference.

Why is resilience so crucial for a COO?

  • Leadership during changes.
    COOs, with the leadership team, are the torchbearers during times of change.
  • Facing business realities.
    Market changes and crises are inevitable. A resilient COO can navigate these rough waters.
  • Mental strength.
    I’ve been there. Most days are about exciting projects, but some days, maybe 20%, are tough. Being unprepared for these days means falling at the first hurdle.
  • Building resilience.
    Just like a muscle, resilience needs regular workouts. It’s developed over time, not overnight.
  • Setting the tone.
    A resilient COO inspires the team. Challenges become growth opportunities, not roadblocks.

So, while the road of a COO is exciting, it’s also filled with challenges. What is the difference between faltering and thriving? Cultivating resilience.

High emotional intelligence  

A COO isn’t just dealing with numbers and strategies at the heart of operations. They’re deeply entwined with people. Understanding people and truly connecting with them requires high emotional intelligence.

What does emotional intelligence bring to the COO’s table?

  • People-centric.
    A COO is often in charge of People Ops. This means interacting, understanding, and working closely with various teams. It’s not just a task; it’s a necessity.
  • Nuanced decisions.
    Recognizing and managing emotions – both personal and of others – allows for decisions that consider the human element. It’s decision-making with depth.
  • Building trust.
    A COO with high emotional intelligence listens, empathizes, and responds. This approach builds trust, lifts morale, and strengthens bonds. All vital for teamwork and success.
  • Staying adaptable.
    Emotional agility is about not getting bogged down by rigid feelings or thoughts. It’s about adapting, staying flexible, and ensuring the organization can pivot when needed.

A COO’s emotional intelligence is a game-changer in a role that’s as much about people as it is about processes. 

Final Thoughts on Essential Traits of Every Successful COO

In the fast-paced business world, the COO stands as a beacon, guiding the ship through calm and stormy waters. While technical skills and business acumen are crucial, the softer, often overlooked traits truly set a COO apart.

From taking decisive actions to meticulous project planning, a COO is the anchor that turns visions into realities. The ability to zoom out and see the broad horizon while also zooming in on the minutest details is a unique blend that ensures strategic goals align with on-the-ground operations.

Yet, it’s not just about business mechanics. Resilience, the capacity to face challenges head-on and bounce back stronger, is the shield that every COO needs. In a world of constant change and unexpected challenges, resilience is the trait that ensures continuity and growth.

But, perhaps, the most crucial trait, one that threads through all others, is emotional intelligence. At its core, a company is its people. A COO with high emotional intelligence understands this deeply. They navigate the complex web of human interactions, fostering trust, building relationships, and ensuring that cold business calculations never overshadow the human element.

So, for those aspiring to step into the COO role or those looking to excel further, it’s essential to cultivate these traits. They aren’t just checkboxes on a list but the essence of what makes a COO exceptional.

While business landscapes will evolve, and industries will transform, these core traits remain timeless. They’re the foundation upon which lasting success is built.

In the end, the journey of a COO is a blend of strategy and action, vision and implementation, resilience and emotional connection. It’s a path that demands both hard skills and soft power. But for those who cultivate these essential traits, it’s a journey that leads to unparalleled growth and fulfillment.

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