Lessons from CEOs: How to be a better leader

Adam Bryant

I make it a point to read Adam Bryant’s Corner Office column each Sunday in the New York Times. Each column is an interview with a CEO. Most run businesses, but Bryant also features leaders from nonprofit organizations on occasion.

He’s been writing the column since March 2009, and now, he has distilled the lessons of leadership he has uncovered into a new book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons From CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed. He summarized the book in his column on April 19.

Bryant says there are five traits that many successful CEOs have in common. Learn to emulate them, and you might become a better leader yourself.

The five traits are:

  • Passionate curiosity. The best CEOs are always learning more about why things work the way they do, why things succeed or fail, how things can be improved, how people think, and on and on. Bryant notes that CEOs aren’t necessarily the smartest people in the room, but they almost always are the best students. From this constant questioning come new ideas for innovation and improved productivity.
  • Battle-hardened confidence. CEOs have had their share of failures, but they’re not beaten by them. Instead, they bounce back, take away a few lessons and move on. Over time, they develop the confidence that comes with overcoming adversity. They learn not to make excuses and not to walk away from tough situations. And of course, they look for and admire the same trait in others.
  • Team smarts. This refers refers to the ability to recognize the players a team needs and how to bring them together around a common goal. A good CEO looks for reliable team players who can be motivated and mobilized to work with others toward common goals. They don’t have to get along or like each other; they just have to know how to set aside differences to work together. Successful CEOs know how to find people like that and form them into teams.
  • A simple mindset. Good CEOs aren’t impressed by wordiness and long analysis. They want people who can focus their thinking, get to the point and identify a viable course of action.
  • Fearlessness. Effective CEOs look for people who aren’t afraid to step out from the crowd, make surprising career moves and operate without a road map. They want the kinds of people who aren’t afraid to shake up comfortable situations because they know that change must be made for an organization to keep growing and succeeding. They don’t want people who pursue change just for the sake of change, but if a person can demonstrate wisdom and show that he or she has the organization’s best interests in mind, a good CEO will reach out to lift that person up.

So, if you’re looking to be a CEO, or just to keep moving in your career, those are five traits you can start to adopt now. Do you know people like this? Are you one of them?

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