I never aspired to be a CEO. I wanted to be a consultant. After investing 15 years building relationships, writing and speaking all over the world, I was prepared to start a consulting firm. A marketing firm was working on videos to kick off my new business. So, when Correct Craft approached me the first time to be its CEO, I responded with a polite and respectful, “No thanks.”
Less than two years later, when asked again to consider the job, I felt like it was the right thing to do. I accepted.
I do not consider myself a great CEO. I know better than that. However, I have had a great CEO education. Attending courses at many of the world’s best business schools, including Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, visiting more than 110 countries to speak with and learn from global business leaders, and leading multiple turnarounds has taught me a lot. Most important — and this cannot be overstated — I have been blessed to work with incredible teammates who have helped me learn how to be a better leader.
Learning is exciting, but I also love sharing what I have learned. About a year ago, I started summarizing what I have learned, hoping to frame it in a way that could be shared with aspiring and seasoned leaders alike. My fourth book, Education of a CEO: Lessons for Leaders, was released in May and shares my thoughts in detail on each of the following aspects of being an impactful leader.
My ideas fall into three groups: foundation, people and leading. I called the first group “foundation” because the ideas are foundational to being an effective leader. These ideas are:
Be a learner
I cannot overstate the importance of this topic. We all get to choose whether to go through life as a “knower” or a “learner.” Regrettably, most people choose to be a knower. They prefer validation over truth.
Get honest feedback
Because most leaders would rather feel good than improve, they do not seek real feedback. Being self-aware is key to being a good leader, and it is impossible to do that on your own. As leaders, we need people in our lives who will speak truth to us, even when hearing it does not feel good.
The best leaders have great vision. They can see future events and opportunities in ways that others cannot. Fortunately, there are ways we can improve our vision, including being a learner and getting out of our comfort zone.
Leaders, like all people, have either a growth or fixed mindset. Can you guess which one the best leaders have?
Integrity is good for business. However, even if it weren’t good for business, having integrity would still be the right thing to do.
My second group of ideas relates to people. For me to excel, I need to be on a team with really smart people. If everything were up to me, it would be a train wreck. A great team is imperative. Some ideas related to people are:
Eye for talent
The best leaders hire people who are smarter and more talented than themselves. To the degree that I have had any success, it has been because of the people on my team.
Impactful leaders transmit energy to their team. Ego and reward-driven leaders suck energy from their teams.
Great leaders do not just maintain or even improve. They transform. Transformers do not just make things better. They make things different.
The best leaders clearly state the values, vision, “why” and strategic plan of their organization. Clarity means that you keep sharing the important things even when you are tired of hearing them yourself.
As I heard author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once say, “It is better to train people and lose them than not train them and have them stay.”
The final group of leadership ideas relates to leading effectively, including:
Be clear about your organization’s vision and values. Make them important. Affirm those who embrace the vision and who value making a good culture. Few things will affect your organization as much.
The process of making decisions as leaders is rarely clear-cut. We are always dealing in probabilities. However, a good decision-making process can positively affect your success.
Leaders who are not looking out five to 10 years are putting their organizations at great risk. The world is changing fast, and a lot of organizations will not survive the changes. The best leaders are taking steps to ensure their organizations survive.
Innovation is hard. It results from doing something that has never been done. Fortunately, there are several things we can do to be good at innovation. They include embracing self-disruption, having a growth mindset, viewing innovation as more than just technology, and being willing to fail.
Often, people ask me how they can become a better leader. Frequently, it feels like they are looking for the proverbial silver bullet. The questions are usually along the lines of, “What’s the most important thing?”
Everything I wrote above is important, but if I were forced to pick just one, it would be the importance of being a learner. A leader who is truly a learner will figure out the rest of the items above on his own.
Bill Yeargin is CEO of Correct Craft and author of several books.