The term Commanding Officer (CO) has long been associated with military hierarchy. At the top of the military ladder is the position of Commander in Chief. Commanders at each level are often referred to as the “superior” of levels below.

In my experience dealing with the best and the brightest who serve our country, very few commanders see themselves as superior.

In fact, effective COs celebrate the equality of those in their charge. They know success comes when everyone feels empowered to lead and take their share of responsibility. Further, they believe in humility, respect, empathy, and integrity every bit as much as discipline. The same is true in business.

A Chief Operating Officer (COO) could be viewed as the business equivalent of the military CO. In some companies, the COO is the individual in charge. But the best COOs (and CEOs) also know they need to create a culture where everyone shares the attributes of a strong COO.

If you don’t have a Chief or a commander title, you can choose to act like a COO or a CO no matter where you are on the ladder. Here is what great COOs and COs do, according to four Chiefs, Alexander TuffRyan CaldbeckJeremy Bromberg, and Mark Hamade.

  1. Ask good questions
  2. Be transparent and open
  3. Strive for alignment with effective communication
  4. Be a life-long learner
  5. Surround yourself with life-long learners
  6. Plan the work and work the plan
  7. Improve everything you touch
  8. Focus on details
  9. Control your ego
  10. Be data driven
  11. Lead by supporting
  12. Keep your cool
  13. Prioritize
  14. Be resourceful
  15. Be practical
  16. Be unassuming
  17. Be a great listener
  18. Be a free thinker
  19. Be a clear communicator
  20. Be strong with numbers (analysis, metrics) and letters (writing)
  21. Have an appropriate sense of urgency
  22. Develop a great eye for detail
  23. Be passionate about company success, and know that personal success is an outcome of company success, not the other way around
  24. Advocate for employees at all levels
  25. Advocate for good ideas, regardless of where they come from
  26. Be energetic, even if quietly
  27. Be a master integrator
  28. Champion continuous improvement in everything
  29. Don’t let allow perfect to get in the way of progress
  30. Be a team player
  31. Build trust

Their advice is spot on, and in line with everything I know and teach about being Chief. Who needs the title anyway?