The title of executive is an attractive title for many due to the obvious benefits of being a top earner and being highly respected inside and outside your organization, especially the title of Chief Executive Officer (CEO).  However, do you know the responsibility of an executive?

The executive director the MIT Leadership Center Hal Gregersen wrote an article Bursting the CEO Bubble in the March-April 2017 Harvard Business Review.  Gregersen explains why executives should talk less and ask more questions.  He starts his article by saying, “When you’re the CEO of a large organization—or even a small one—your greatest responsibility is to recognize whether it requires a major change in direction.”

If you are leading any group of people, this blog will help you develop strategies to help you thrive as an executive.  Any head leadership position, especially CEO, can be filled with many opportunities and threats.  CEO of Charles Schwab Walt Bettinger explained his “number one challenge” of being a CEO takes two forms: “people telling you what they think you want to hear, and people being fearful to tell you things they believe you don’t want to hear.”

In this same article cofounder of Infosys and recently a senior Indian government official Nandan Nilekani said, “If you’re a leader, you can put yourself in a cocoon—a good-news cocoon.”  No leader should ever create a culture that doesn’t foster communication.  Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos said, “When you’re in a box in an office, you’ve got to invent a way out of the box.”  Here are 5 ways mentioned in the article to get out of the box and be the best executive you can be.

1.    Are you asking the right questions?

In the article, former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was referenced for his famous phrase of “unknown unknowns.”  Rumsfeld explained, “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know.  We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are things we do not know.  But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.  And…it is latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”

One of the best ways of getting the right answer is asking the right question.  The best leaders become good at asking the right questions from taking into consideration the thoughts, ideas, and feelings of their team members, associates, clients, etc.

2.    Are you afraid to be wrong?

CEO of Charles Schwab Bettinger stated, “The difference between successful executives and unsuccessful ones is not the quality of their decision making.  Bettinger continued saying, “Each one probably makes good decisions 60% of the time and bad ones 40% of the time—and maybe it’s even 55% to 45%.  The difference ism the successful executive is faster to recognize the bad decisions and adjust, whereas failing executives often dig in and try to convince people that they were right.”

The greatest leaders aren’t afraid to make mistakes.  Matter of fact, they are fearful of never making a mistakes.  All leaders understand that development and advancement is dependent on learning from their mistakes.

3.     Are making yourself uncomfortable?

The article referenced author Joseph Campbell when he said, “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.  The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for.”

When a leader finds constant comfort, it should be a sign that something needs changing.  To constantly grow and develop as an executive is priceless.

4.    Are you being quiet?

An executive is thought to be a person that is loud and boisterous.  And we have seen many leaders that lead this way.  But the mark of a great leader is if he or she possesses the unique trait of being uncharacteristically quiet.  Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

In all of Gregersen research he discovered, “The need to work on being quieter came up again and again in my interviews with CEOs.”  The cofounder and former CEO of VMware and senior vice president and a board member of Google Diane Greene said, “Quiet time is the key to clear thinking and increases the likelihood of asking the right questions.”

Great leaders know listening is the start of new and fresh ideas, thoughts, inspirations, motivations, insights, ingenuities, opportunities, and dreams.

5.    Are you developing good habits?

Gregersen explained president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios Ed Catmull success.  Gregersen said, “Catmull likewise worries about the ‘dangerous disconnect’ that afflicts top managers when they consistently fail to ‘step up to the boundary’ of what they know and what they don’t know.  Determined not to let Pixar down in that way, he’s designed a whole set of institutions and practices to ‘systematically fight complacency.’” 

If you are going to succeed as a leader, you must develop good habits.  I challenge you today to start developing good habits of listening, stepping out of your comfort zone, and receiving input from anyone invested in your success as a leader.

How are leading the people that are following you?  Please leave a comment below, send me a tweet on Twitter, or leave a comment on Facebook.


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