Ten Actions to Start Doing Today if You Want to Be a Successful CEO

Today, I’ve been reflecting on an HBR article (May-June 2017 edition) I read, What Sets Successful CEOs Apart (Elena Lytkina Botelho, Kim Rosenkoetter Powell, Stephen Kincaid, and Dina Wang).  Like many HBR articles, it shares interesting perspectives and it got my wheels turning.  According to the article, there are four areas where successful CEOs excel.

  1. Be decisive  (Those described as decisive were 12 times more likely to be the high-performing CEOs)
  2. Deliver reliably (CEO candidates who rated high on reliability were twice as likely to get the role and 15 times more likely to succeed in it)
  3. Engage for impact (CEOs who who excel in engaging for impact were 75% more successful in their roles)
  4. Adapt proactively (CEOs who adapt proactively are 6.7 times more likely to succeed)

To learn more about the research methods, please go to the original article where it is explains how performance was differentiated.

AGDvisors Insights:

Since according to a 2014 survey from Korn Ferry 87% of executives want to become CEOs, I wanted to boil this down to 10 actions to start doing today to be able to succesfully sit in the CEO office in the future.

Be decisive

According to the article, “high-performing CEOs do not necessarily stand out for making great decisions all the time; rather, they stand out for being more decisive.”… “They do so consistently – even amid ambiguity, with incomplete information, and in unfamiliar domains”.  Often we hear about the substantial costs of a bad decision, but what we rarely hear quantified is the cost of no decision at all, or the cost of a bottleneck due to a delayed decision. Knowing when to decide and when to wait, isn’t easy.  What has the greater cost, making the wrong decision or not making a decision and hold things up.  The first step is to decide if you need to decide.  Many executives I work with are brilliant, yet when it comes decision making, higher IQ may hinder your ability to decide.  Your ability and desire for more perfect answers can make taking action more difficult.  I call this smart person’s curse which can lead to “more perfect decisions” but more perfect decisions that are not timely are no longer perfect.

Deliver reliably

Deliver on your commitments, manage expectations so you can exceed them, be responsive. This should be a no brainer, but somehow be it a desire to please, a lack of engagement, or not understanding what it takes to get the job done, people often don’t deliver reliably.  On the other hand, I have consistently been impressed by how responsive those I deem to be great executives are.  In addition to doing what they say, and saying what they will do or have done, great leaders really do have great follow-though.

Engage for impact

As an executive, once you know where you are headed, you must get buy-in from your team and stakeholders on board to join you.  Executives who successfully get buy-in do so with with deliberate and consistent planning.  Identify your key stakeholders, understand their points of support and/or resistance, and work (one-on-one if you have) to ultimately gain their buy-in.  If done properly, this process often results in uncovering some resistance or conflict that, through dialogue, may lead to a better solution.  Not surprisingly, he article says, two-thirds of of the CEOs who excelled with “Engage for Impact” were also strong at conflict management.  If there is something that needs to be addressed, address it.  I always recommend to start with a common shared goal, keep your ears open (seek first to understand and then to be understood), and move forward from there – remember the adage two heads are better than one.  Enter the dialogue expecting it to better path forward.  While the dialogue does not always result in enhanced outcomes, executives who are best at engaging for impact “give everyone a voice but not a vote”.

Adapt proactively

If you haven’t heard the term VUCA yet, it’s time to get introduced.  The term VUCA originates from the military where it was introduced to describe the more Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world after the end of the Cold War.  More recently, it’s become a management tool to to describe the ever-changing, information laden, globally matrixed and unknown, business environment we operate in. It has been suggested that the antidote to VUCA is VUCA~ (Vision , Understanding, Courage, and Adaptability).  To adapt proactively, executives must broadly source information, surround themselves with diverse thoughts, and have a long term focus for their business. Broad exposure leads to a greater chance at adapting proactively as it enhances a executive’s ability to assimilate seemingly unrelated information and find relevance to their businesses.  The combination of casting wide and having a long-term focus allows CEOs to sense or create change as a competitive advantage.

Here are 10 things to start doing today be be CEO in the future:

  1. Start Deciding:  The first decision should be whether or not to decide at all.
  2. Avoid Smart Person’s Curse:  Perfect decisions rarely exist but analysis paralysis is common; practice making decisions, sharing your thoughts with a sounding board, getting feedback, and taking action.
  3. Value your Values:  Know and be mindful of your values.  Awareness of values helps you make consistent decisions, even in times of great pressure.
  4. Build your Personal Board of Directors:  Map out your trusted advisors and build a diverse Board that you can engage.
  5. Connect with your Personal Board of Directors:  Engage your Board regularly to celebrate wins, share information, push on another’s perspectives, get creative and problem solve.
  6. Air it Out:  Address conflict with an open mind and a common goal. No professional “junk drawers” (one day you will find something gross in there, or worse, the WSJ will!).
  7. Source Information Broadly:  Access information across diverse industries, geographies, and perspectives.  As the great Dr. says, The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
  8. Always Be in Ready Position:  Knees bent, shoulders squared, alert, and ready to change direction or continue charging on your current path.
  9. Be The Person Others Count On:  Consistently deliver on your commitments, and if you can’t reach out early for help (when done so early, asking for help is most often viewed positively as it reflects well on your foresight, dedication, and honesty).
  10. Act like a CEO:  Remember there is a spotlight on you. Anything that you do, don’t do, say or don’t’ say may be perceived as a message.

And of course, be you and be kind.

Great Leaders Know Themselves Greatly: 5W to POP!

I am a student of leadership.  I’ve worked for some of the world’s most admired (and infamous) companies; the giants of financial services, consulting, retail, consumer products, manufacturing, logistics, and even in the public sector.  With nearly 20 years of experience studying and developing leaders across countries and across industries, one leadership truth, is that great leaders know themselves greatly.  What do I mean by this?  Well, good leaders understand their leadership W’s (who, what, when, where, and why).

Who: My personal brand. (Best described by what other’s say about me when I leave the room)

What: My impact.

When: My today, the legacy I will leave, the history I have made.

Where: EVERYWHERE. (assume it’s on the front page of the Wall Street Journal)

Why: My purpose, my values, my passion, my mission.

Great leaders understand their leadership W’s well enough that they act with such consistency that their followers can predict or explain what a great leader will do in a given scenario.  This is what I call 5W Leadership Awareness.  There are a lot of very successful good leaders that I have worked with, on the other hand, I have only worked with a few great 5W leaders. Part of the distinction between good and great is that in public pivotal moments a great leader knows herself well enough that she behaves the way she does in private less stressful moments. And, of course, time and time again, we see how hard this is, especially since we know that nothing is really private. This means that great leaders act consistently in the boardroom, on a golf course, at the bar, during an interview, at their place of worship, and in their home office (i.e., email!).  Their consistent sense of self, purpose, vision, priorities, and value carries through everything they do, say, and think. This is not to suggest a robotic approach, rather that great leaders have such clarity on their W’s that they behave in a consistent and predictable fashion.

This clarity helps great leaders have great followership.  Their followership understands what their priorities are, what makes them tick, and what their core beliefs are. Today, I want to share is a stepping stone to 5W, these are what I call my POPs, my Personal Operating Principles.  Some are grander than others, some have greater application than others, some are direct reflections of my value sorter (blog post coming soon!), and some are more tactical. POPs are a great tool to keep yourself focused on being the leader that you want to be.  At the beginning of a project, when on-boarding a new team, and when doing some self-reflection, I always review my POPs, consider what’s most relevant for my current goals and I share them with my team.  Feedback from my teams, leaders, and peers has been that they really appreciated getting to know my point of view in such a succinct way, they had better clarity into who I was, and they liked understanding what was important and some keys to success in my eyes.  I keep a running list of my POPs, I am always adding to my list, and highlighting ones that are most relevant to a certain situation. Here are 10 POPs that I found myself using recently.

  1. Responsiveness builds trust: Trust is hard to build and easy to lose – respond to people, even if it’s to communicate that you need to set up time in the future
  2. Have a continuous improvement mindset – think critically and robustly:  We share a collective responsibility to be better tomorrow then we are today
  3. Make others look good….your manager, your peers, your direts, your clients: This, in turn, makes you look good
  4. WIIFM (MT, MC, etc.) – What’s In It For Me (My Team, My Customers, etc.): Consider benefits (and drawbacks) from a variety of positions
  5. Assume positive intent: Discuss, regroup, escalate, if necessary, and  move on: No one woke up this morning with the intent to screw with you, if it happened, it was not intentional
  6. Create the agenda: When in doubt, create the agenda for the meeting and be prepared to lead it
  7. Prior to a meeting, follow the Rule of 3: Determine the 3 things you need for the meeting to be successful (What are the 3 items you need a decision on, the 3 pieces of information you need to share, the 3 key points you need to communicate)
  8. 2 Ears, 1 Mouth…maybe they should be used in that ratio: Listen and do so actively
  9. Be kind (and if you weren’t) rewind (and do so immediately): Apologize, course correct, and move forward
  10. Start from a point of agreement: Leverage common and/or organizational goal

Please feel free to use my list and if you would like to partner to develop your POPs, work towards your 5W Leadership, work on your Values Sorter or connect further, please reach out to Alison at Alison@AGDvisors.

I would love to hear any POPs that you have or have observed in leaders.