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14 Leadership Lessons To Learn From CEO Successes (And Failures)

Expert Panel, Forbes Coaches Council

Forbes Source:

The news is filled with articles about well-known business CEOs. Sometimes you hear about their successes, but often, it's their failings that can teach the most valuable lessons.

As a company leader, seeing a fellow leader's actions scrutinized, potentially leading to negative personal and professional consequences, can fill even the most optimistic person with dread. However, these widely-read stories often contain wisdom that can help you to develop as a leader.

Below, the experts of Forbes Coaches Council shared some key takeaways you can learn about business management from the successes and failures of other CEOs.

1. Be Aware Of Your Cognitive Biases

Many CEOs and leaders over time get tunnel-visioned and isolated. They get siloed, have access to filtered information and are surrounded by similar-minded executives. It is important for CEOs to step away and get curious about "what is really going on here." Be aware of your cognitive biases, seek out diverse ideas and opinions and be disciplined about taking perspective. - Shefali Raina, Alpha Lane Partners

2. Practice Humility 

Humility defines leadership. Successful leaders are humble, recognizing many people and levels contribute to an organization. They build teams that provide acknowledgment of great work and tolerance for risk, including losses. Leaders who fail often lack humility, routinely taking all of the credit and none of the blame. They have weak teams, leaving no soft landing when they themselves stumble. - Kristin Johnson, Logos Consulting Group

3. Invest In Your Team

When a CEO or other leaders invest in their team, the team invests in the company. Leaders should understand that leadership isn't about them, it's about the team. Without a team, there's no need for a leader. Investing time and resources in developing team members is the best way to improve the culture and employee engagement. Leaders should pay attention to who is in their circle of influence. - Dr. Teresa Ray, PCC, Dr. Teresa Ray

4. Define And Stick To Your Values 

I've coached several CEOs at critical junctures in their lives and businesses. These leaders actively consider their values when making decisions. Their values play a pivotal role in helping them take actions closely aligned with business and life goals. The leaders I've met during the valleys of their careers admit they made critical missteps because they failed to hold tight to holistic values. - Leila Bulling Towne, The Bulling Towne Group, LLC

5. Avoid The Status Quo

Leaders must not cling to status quo thinking. To quote Marshall Goldsmith, "What got you here, won't get you there." Many CEOs cling to tried-and-true ways of doing things that worked well in the past. Unfortunately, the market changes so much that those ways might no longer be the best way. Keeping eyes open to the changing market and exploring curiosity can be critical for success. - Dr. Diane Hamilton, Tonerra

6. Think Before You Speak

Many downfallen CEOs have not failed because they made a poor business decision—it’s because they self-sabotaged their own success, either intentionally or unintentionally. Think before you say something. Ask if you could tell that to your grandmother and your grandfather. And before you act, say it out loud so you hear it with your own ears. Does it still stand true? - Nick Leighton, Exactly Where You Want to Be

7. Understand The 'Why' Behind Your Decisions

Personal or corporate successes or failings are usually tied to something beneath the surface, It is about more than what simply seems to be. Leaders can begin by evaluating their position and exploring the "why" behind decisions. Ask these questions to keep things in check: Do I make decisions based solely on profit, ego or contribution to society? A truthful answer may thwart a future problem. - Deborah Hightower, Deborah Hightower, Inc.

8. Build Management Skills Before Emphasizing Leadership 

A recently-released Gallup book found that the quality of managers and team leaders is the single biggest factor in your organization's long-term success. Although leadership is constantly discussed in LinkedIn posts and in memes, the actual skills of managing are more important. Leadership means different things to different people, and managing is a pretty solid skill set for success. - Gene Russell, Manex Consulting

9. Don't View Leadership As A Popularity Contest 

CEOs are not hired to be popular or to be liked. They are often hired to fix a very tumultuous organization, unprofitable company or to turn around a company hemorrhaging money or on the brink of closure. People don't discuss this, but it's the truth. Look for people with integrity, action, honesty, speed and results. A quick pace is required—which means decisions may be unpopular too. - Joanne Markow, GreenMason

10. Remember That You Can't Be A 'Neutral' CEO 

As a leader, there is no "neutral." If a CEO is not having a positive impact on their business, they are having a negative impact. CEOs often have to be reminded they are always being watched—by employees, clients, customers and, for larger, more high-profile CEOs, the public—and the power of their position magnifies their behavior, good and bad. - Julie Colbrese, MCC, Hot Coffee Coaching

11. Stay Close To The Customer Experience 

The further you are from the customer experience, the more likely you will fail your organization. Years back, 90% of CEOs came up from sales. The sage adage was, "You can't carry the company if you haven't carried a bag." The "bag" was the sample cases sales representatives carried. Today, a CEO should fight to stay close to customers, advertisers and other sources of sustainable revenue. - Nance A Rosen, MBA, NanceSpeaks!

12. Surround Yourself With Diverse Minds 

One of the senior VPs told me that he had made a huge mistake of surrounding himself with like-minded people or employees, who were more interested in flattering him than being honest. There was nobody courageous enough and different enough to tell him to stop or to point to his biases. From now on he has been seeking a team of diverse and bold people who do not see eye to eye with him. - Inga Bielińska, Inga Bielinska Coaching Consulting Mentoring

13. Apply Principles, But Don't Copy Precise Practices 

Don't try to copy what you see. Why? Their situation is likely quite different than yours, so the same dynamics are not at play. Also, you don't know the whole story. You can bet that what actually happened was not exactly as it was described. So, extract the principles behind what was described versus exactly copying the practices. Then, see how those principles might apply to your situation. - Gary Bradt, Bradt Leadership, Inc.

14. Strive To Keep Growing 

It's so easy to see others' failures and point a finger. It's much harder to see our own. A key thing to remember is that leaders are just people. Everyone needs to keep growing, and mistakes can be powerful growth opportunities. As we see others fail we need to ask, "Am I growing from my mistakes?" Have truth-tellers in your corner who will help you keep growing, even when you make a mistake. - Christine Rose, Christine Rose Coaching & Consulting

Article: ©2019 Forbes Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.


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