10 Essential Lessons Successful CEOs Learned on Their Way to the Top
CEOs earn their top spots through working smart (and hard), mentoring others, and focusing on results that matter. They’ve learned hard lessons and racked up their fair share of successes along the way.
- Put the customer first. In PriceWaterHouseCoopers’ most recent Global CEO Survey, the accounting firm found that 85% of technology CEOs are confident in their ability to boost their firms’ revenues over the next 12 months.
Despite the challenging economic conditions, these CEOs cite customer demand as the driving factor behind those increases. In fact, 84% of them say meeting customers is the activity on which they would most like to spend more time.
Apple is an excellent example of a company that stays focused on its customers. They have created a working partnership with its customer base by letting them design applications through their App Store. Putting the customer first – determining what they want to buy – can significantly improve your company’s potential profitability in the short and long term.
- Develop a consistent leadership style. Steve Jobs regularly delivered on what he promised. And, if he didn’t think he could achieve it, it didn’t get announced or shared publicly. That was his leadership style – underpromising and over-delivering.
Being consistent in his actions and words helped to strengthen his CEO brand and build his reputation with key stakeholders. Over the decades this commitment evolved into a consistent leadership style, which shaped Apple’s strategy, marketing, and product development. This alignment further solidified Apple’s brand image as well as his own CEO brand.
Decide what you want to be known for as a leader and then determine how that reputation can be transferred to your business.
- Open the door to your office. You can’t get results as a CEO if you don’t have the support of the people around you – from the warehouse worker all the way up to the C-level executives. James Sinegal grew Costco into a discount powerhouse by maintaining an open door policy, inviting all employees to collaborate, share ideas, and offer up growth strategies.
Keeping your office door open signals your personal openness to idea sharing and internal collaboration: something every employee values. The fact that you are willing to spend time talking with them makes them feel appreciated.
You build a stronger company with a steady stream of new ideas.
- Have vision. Steve Jobs was a true visionary. He was also focused on results. He wanted to change the world and how people lived, and he achieved that goal with every product he introduced. His vision became the beacon of his CEO brand and where people turned when they wanted something new. Steve Jobs used his vision to be a game changer.
What would you like your business to change about how people live or work? Being a breakthrough thinker is a valuable attribute for all CEOs who are striving to get results.
- Focus on both short-term and long-term objectives. Daily tasks are a must-have for all leaders, but it’s also important to develop – and share with your team – long-term objectives for your company.
What are those short-term tasks building toward? Become preoccupied with the short-term consequences or tactics and you will lose sight of what the company’s future could become. If you’re going to build the company, you have to have a long-term view five, ten, or even 15 years out.
- Empower leaders. Don’t just take the company by the reigns and expect to be able to lead it to greatness on your own.
Empower those around you to become excellent leaders, too, and you’ll wind up with a team that’s not only focused on results, but that also is capable of achieving them on a daily, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis.
You want people in your company influencing others, from customers, to clients, to the community. The more leaders your company has, the greater your impact on the company.
- Learn from your mistakes. Costco’s Sinegal says his philosophy in running Costco was “not to make the same mistake five times.” Borrowing a page from his book, remember that mistakes are both relative and inevitable. Your business will never grow or become successful if you aren’t innovative about how to expand its reach or boost your bottom line.
You’ve got to take risks, and with risks come investments or efforts that don’t work out. Use mistakes as learning tools instead of simply adding them to your “failure” pile.
Convey that message to your team as well. They need to feel comfortable taking risks and proposing unconventional ideas knowing that they won’t be penalized if the results aren’t what they had hoped for.
- Know your tolerance levels. Know where you stand on issues and make sure those around you are aware of those tolerance levels. This will help your team ferret out the areas where they can innovate and excel while steering clear of those opportunities that will waste your time … and theirs.
Communicate to your managers and staff on where you stand on certain issues that are particularly important to you – don’t just leave them guessing. If you’re committed to becoming a greener organization, be clear about how green. Setting expectations and limits will help your company move forward in a targeted way that has a better chance of success.
- Hire smart. It’s been said that you are only as good as the people around you and nowhere is this statement more true than in the business world – and in particular, at the highest ranks. As a leader you must recruit top talent.
Have the self-confidence not to worry about whether they will pursue your job. To get those individuals to stick around, you have to cultivate your team to success, stoke innovation, invite collaboration, and reward individuals for their efforts.
- Execute your plan. Having a headful of great ideas isn’t enough. You have to select the best of the best ideas, create plans around them, and then execute on those plans.
“All too often we confuse great strategy with a plan that isn’t well executed,” says Virtual Instrument’s Thompson. “I would take a well-executed plan any day over a well-developed strategy. Even if the strategy isn’t perfect, a well-executed strategy is better than a perfect strategy poorly executed. Leaders need to focus on the execution side.”
No matter what your current position is within your company, you can apply what top CEOs have learned to improve your performance.
How do you succeed within your organization?