For CEOs, it isn’t enough to climb to the top of the ladder. You also have to maintain your equilibrium and keep your eyes open for new opportunities once you’re there. Successful CEOs of Fortune 500 companies have plenty of valuable advice for aspiring executives who are still on the way up, and their solutions have a few elements in common. Here, you’ll discover what top executives across a wide range of industries value most.
CEOs can’t afford to be specialists; they have to take a wider view and learn something about every aspect of their organization. Prospective leaders must learn elements of project management, research and development, accounting, marketing, sales, and information management to thrive as CEOs. Your knowledge doesn’t have to be encyclopedic – that’s why you hire the experts to work as your C-level executives and managers – but CEOs and their businesses benefit tremendously from a broader knowledge base.
The intellectual curiosity that drives CEOs to learn about their organizations should also extend beyond the company’s walls. Some of the greatest inspirations come from surprising sources; everything from game theory to returning a purchase has sparked new ideas on how to govern for CEOs who stay curious. Turning that curiosity inward and becoming more self-aware is also important. Knowing who you are, how your staff perceives you, and what your customers think of your organization are essential to aligning those perceptions with the reality you want to achieve.
Being a CEO is no job for the timid. As CEO, you are ultimately responsible for the direction your organization takes. You steer the ship, and as its captain, you need the courage to take it in unexpected directions when innovation is necessary. Disruption has become a bit of a buzzword, but there’s a reason for that: It’s what every industry and organization needs to advance. The key to constructive disruption is having the knowledge to make sound decisions. How do you gain that knowledge? Increasingly, it’s through technology.
How do you know what to question and which questions to ask? It’s all in the data, but data needs interpretation. A CEO who is comfortable with new technology and harnesses its power to give meaningful feedback on how the organization and its competitors stack up is one who knows just where to push to get the desired results. Facility with technology also protects your organization from vulnerability. Your CIO maintains your data security, but if that security should fall, you are the one who will answer to stockholders and clients. Become comfortable with your company’s security measures, and you’re prepared for anything.
One of the greatest challenges some leaders face is asking those they lead how they’re doing, yet paying attention to feedback teaches you vital lessons. On game shows, contestants often look to the audience to give them consensus answers, and those who combine that advice with their own knowledge tend to win. The wisdom of crowds can give you new insights and help you avoid pitfalls. Listen to the group and share ideas freely to arrive at the best solutions.
CEOs with open-door policies earn their employees’ trust, and with trust comes long-term loyalty. When your staff members feel they can bring concerns directly to you and be heard, they value that relationship. Just being present makes a huge difference in how your personnel perceive you, and in turn, those positive relationships translate into better relations with clients.
Earlier, you read about the importance of courage. Sometimes, it takes as much courage to be patient as it does to bring about change. Some CEOs fall into an emergency mindset and feel change must be a constant to improve. Sometimes that’s true, but other times, it’s best to maintain course and foster stability. During cycles of more gradual growth and change, you have an opportunity to sharpen your skills, learn more, and gain new insights. Think of these periods as storing up potential energy to release when quick action is needed.