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Musings of a CEO

Keys to success include strategic thinking, self-awareness and avoiding self-deception
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After publishing hundreds of articles and authoring five books, I have learned the formula for successful writing. Have a central point, back it up with bullet points, throw in a story and make it concise. And don’t try to cover too much territory in a single piece. I understand the formula and usually try to follow the rules, but those who follow the rules rarely make history.

So let the musings begin.

I was recently in a board meeting where we discussed the importance of discernment. We wanted to ensure the board was doing the right things, which is sometimes difficult to discern. Lyndon Johnson is attributed with the quote, “Doing what’s right is easy; knowing what’s right is the hard part.” As leaders, we must make sure our teams are not only good at cutting down trees, but, more important, that they are in the right forest. This is harder than it seems, and it is especially difficult for highly competent people. Often, people who are adept at getting things done have a hard time seeing the bigger, more strategic picture, and it costs them and their organizations dearly.

Related to the point above, tactical and strategic leaders must realize they need each other. Generally, strategic leaders, like me, understand the need for tactical leaders; I acknowledge how little I can do. However, tactical leaders sometimes don’t see the value of strategic leaders because tactical leaders think their strategic counterparts either don’t seem very competent or don’t seem to do much. If you are a tactical thinker, ensuring that you add strategic thinking to your perspective can seem like a waste of time and be frustrating, but it is also very valuable.

At Correct Craft, we talk almost every day about the importance of being a “learner.” We don’t want to be “knowers,” but frankly, avoiding being a knower is hard, especially for leaders who have enjoyed success. However, the best thinkers don’t focus on what they know; they marvel at how little they know. And learners love learning for learning’s sake, even if there is no direct purpose to their education. I am often asked for my best advice, and I almost always share the same thing: be a learner. It will change your life in a very good way.

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Closely related to being a learner is avoiding self-deception. We may be able to identify lies when others tell them, but it’s almost impossible to identify the lies we tell ourselves. Identifying self-deception often requires trusting someone to provide the direct and honest feedback you need.

Often, the more confidence someone has in their rightness directly correlates with how little they actually know. This results from the Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive bias that fools us into thinking we know a lot about something when we actually know very little about it. Self-deception makes us feel good, but it is incredibly dangerous, and more than any other factor, self-deception holds people back from the success they aspire to achieve.

To avoid self-deception, it helps to be self-aware. Similar to understanding that we have a tough time identifying the lies we tell ourselves, self-awareness includes knowing that we have an easy time finding the flaws in someone else’s perspective. Still, it’s almost impossible to see mistakes in our own thinking or actions. Stephen Covey said that we judge ourselves by our intentions while we judge others by their actions. Nelson Mandela said it is much easier to change society than it is to change yourself. Very few people are self-aware because it is hard and uncomfortable, but as we often say at Correct Craft: “We have to do the hard things.”

Related to the last few points, it is helpful to embrace the idea that knowledge is often best learned from experts, but creativity and wisdom can come from anywhere or anyone. In fact, creativity and innovation almost always come from the periphery.

Persistence is important. Much of success is sticking with goals when others give up. John Haywood said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour.”

I have often said that when you get to the bottom of any management problem, it is almost always a communication problem. George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” As leaders, it is our job, not the recipient’s job, to ensure communication has happened. If you are the leader, communication problems are on you.

One of the best ways to help people who have problems getting along to work together well is to give them a common goal and ensure they are equally accountable.

Next month I will return to the more traditional article format. In the meantime, I hope these musings will catalyze the thinking of leaders, helping them improve both their leadership and their team’s performance. 

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Bill Yeargin is CEO of Correct Craft and author of the best-selling book Education of a CEO.

This article was originally published in the June 2022 issue.

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