Twelve Habits to Help You Become a Successful CEO

Leadership Psychology Matters

Posted Dec 15, 2015

Public Domain
Source: Public Domain

Luskin's Learning Psychology Series-No. 22

This fall I participated in the New CEO workshop during the California Community College League Statewide Convention.  New CEO simply means new to an institution. A  number of experienced CEOs participated. I have been CEO of eight colleges and universities and am presently Chancellor of the Ventura County Community College District, a multi-college community college district in California.

Leading the CEO session were well known successful and respected CEOs including West Hills Community College District Chancellor Frank Gornick, Contra Costa CCD Chancellor Helen Benjamin, LACCD Chancellor Emeritus Rocky Young and Merced CCD President Emeritus Ben Duran.

We shared many of their important leadership survival tips during our conversations. I won’t repeat all of them here because of the limitations of this article. Each CEO shared his or her own tips. During the session, I added my own additional “Twelve Step Psychology Program for CEO Success.”  We agreed that the following twelve tips are on target and central to our shared experience.  We also agreed that there is a common psychology that helps enable success in all leadership situations. There are some criteria where: “One-Size-Fits-All,”  Here they are:

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Source: Public Domain

Twelve critical behaviors fundamental to CEO success in community college leadership include the following:

  1. Don’t complain. Be positive. Positive psychology is real. Positive psychology works.
  2. Be a visible “uniter.” In my experience, when there are multi-colleges, “Uniters get and A,” and “Dividers get an F.” United you succeed, divided you fail.
  3. Write with a “You attitude.” People like to hear “You.”  “You” triggers a measurable and positive behavioral response.
  4. Eliminate the “I” in your writing and speech. The “I” CEOs come off as self-indulgent, self-interested and self-centered. Avoid “I” in your writing as frequently as possible.
  5. Show up. Stay to the end of an event whenever you can. When you leave an event early, your leaving is noticed. Use good judgment about priorities and beware.
  6. Be consciously approachable.
  7. Get out to the community.
  8. Talk frequently with the students.
  9. Be actively and visibly supportive of your staff.
  10. Communicate, consult and meet with those with whom you work.
  11. Tell the truth and tell it fast. Build a reputation for being responsive and truthful.
  12. Show respect. If you are a President in a multi-college district, be your Chancellor’s CEO. If you are the Chancellor in a multi-college system, be your board’s CEO. Respect the hierarchy in which you have responsibility.

Whether you are an administrator with CEO aspirations or an experienced CEO, you can evaluate yourself against the psychology of each feature of my twelve step program. When you analyze yourself, where do you fit?  Are you a Uniter or Divider?  Are you Self-Centered or Egalitarian? Are you Present or Absent?

We agreed that being a CEO is unique for a number of reasons, including this metaphor symbolizing responsibility and dedication: “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, when others can’t, the CEO must.”

Good luck.


Dr. Bernard Luskin, LMFT is Chancellor of the Ventura County Community College District in California. Luskin has been CEO of eight colleges and universities, president and CEO of divisions of several Fortune 500 companies and is a licensed family therapist and school psychologist. He is President Emeritus of the Society for Media Psychology and Technology of the American Psychological Association. Bernie Luskin received lifetime achievement awards for contributions to education, media and technology from the UCLA Doctoral Alumni Association, the Bellweather Award from the Commission on the Future of the American Association of Community Colleges, the Irish Government and European Commission. Send comments to:

Special thanks to Susana Bojorquez, MA and Toni Luskin, PhD for layout, graphics and posting.


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