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21 Success Sutras For CEOs

CEOs must build their trust and confidence among all the stakeholders globally. They must be transparent to build trust, and walk their talk to lead from the front

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"The best way to predict your future is to create it." ? Peter F. Drucker

Leaders like Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, A. G. Lafley, Lakshmi Niwas Mittal, Jeff Bezos, Herb Kelleher and Tony Hsieh overcame lots of leadership challenges during turbulent times.

Twenty-one principles can help CEOs to achieve success and promote organizational excellence.

1. Communicate Clearly: CEOs must articulate their vision effectively. Some CEOs start with the assumption that other people think the same way they do. The higher up the ladder you are, the more likely you must reach out to people who don't understand what you are doing or why are doing it. Hence, there is an urgent need for CEOs to share their important information with all stakeholders to avoid ambiguity and to inspire others to accomplish their vision. Steve Jobs is an ideal example of a leader who communicated his vision clearly with others. He created visual images and used them to connect with his people effectively.

2. Build Trust: Trust in business has been on a steep decline since the beginning of the Great Recession and before. There is a lack of trust in leaders and CEOs globally because of the collapse of global companies such as Enron, Tyco, Lehman Brothers, WorldCom, and Global Crossing. CEOs must build their trust and confidence among all the stakeholders globally. They must be transparent to build trust, and walk their talk to lead from the front.

3. Carry all Stakeholders with You: Carrying all stakeholders, especially shareholders, board members, and customers, is a major challenge for CEOs because expectations are higher than ever. It is essential to make all stakeholders winners, although it is tough to satisfy them. John Mackey, the cofounder and co-CEO of Whole Foods remarked, "At Whole Foods, whenever we make a decision, we want it to work for all stakeholders-employees, customers, investors, suppliers, the community, the environment." Some CEOs have been fired because they could not live up to the expectations of their board members and shareholders. Therefore, it is crucial that CEOs be transparent with board members; they decide the fate of CEOs.

4. Emphasize Organizational Culture: Culture connects employees to create an emotional bonding to improve organizational bottom lines. For instance, A. G. Lafley of Procter & Gamble strives hard to connect people by emphasizing organizational culture. Strategy and culture are two eyes of an organization, with strategy as the guiding path and culture as the driving path. Balancing and blending both enhances CEO effectiveness.

5. Keep People Before Profit: Herb Kelleher, the cofounder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines, valued employees as people, not as workers. He emphasized human resources to keep his company profitable for 30 consecutive years. In the airline industry, the competition is cut-throat; companies struggle to keep their profitability continuously for five years, but Kelleher demonstrated his leadership abilities and won accolades internationally. He proved his critics wrong, and gave sleepless nights to his competitors, and finally made Southwest an inspiring story in the corporate world in America. The company has become a role model for other companies because of its ability to sustain profitability by keeping people before profit.

6. Be Adaptable: The Dean of leadership studies, the late Warren Bennis remarked that adaptability is the key factor for leadership effectiveness and success. Adaptability is the key to CEOs' success in the current global business environment.

7. Take Feedback: Treat feedback as a boon, not as a bane. Feedback is a gift for CEOs from all sources to improve and perform better as per the expectations of others. Hence, accept it gracefully to understand your limitations and appreciate your strengths to grow as a great CEO.

8. Encourage Innovation: Steve Jobs kept Apple healthy and strong by keeping competitors at bay through his innovative and inspiring leadership. When the technological world got into the so-called PC wars, Jobs took the path less traveled and became a trailblazer and a legend. He started as a small fish in a big pond and ultimately became a major source of innovation and excellence. He rewrote the rules of business and changed the way technology worked. He made a big difference to the lives of people through his technological contribution.

9. See the Big Picture: CEOs must see impending challenges from multiple perspectives, requiring considerable business acumen. They must be able to forecast the future demands of the customers and clients. Visionary CEOs like Virgin's Richard Branson and IBM's Lou Gerstner have the innate ability to see the big picture. They could see what could not be seen by others.

10. Overcome VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity): The global business environment is highly dynamic and challenging. The competition is cut-throat. You must run a little faster than everybody else to keep your lead. It is tough to predict the very next moment because there is uncertainty everywhere, and there is no guarantee that the decisions that you make will definitely deliver fruitful results.

11. Avoid Information Overload: In the past people have craved information, yet now must avoid having excessive amounts. With so much information available online, people may find it difficult to choose accurate and authentic information. Jim Collins advocated "stop doing" list in his book, Good to Great. He cautioned, "If you have more than three priorities, you don't have any."

12. Make Decisions with Limited and Imperfect Information: Anybody can make decisions when complete information is available. Anybody can make decisions when partial information is available. But it requires immense imagination and intuition to make decisions when there is a dearth of information. It has become a very big challenge for CEOs currently to make decisions with limited and imperfect information.

13. Conquer Stress. Stress has become a major challenge for CEOs: They don't find time to reflect, and yet a little bit of reflection every day is essential to productivity. What is the use of achieving success when there is no meaning to life? CEOs are under continual pressure from all stakeholders. This pressure is often passed on to lower levels of the organization, resulting in low productivity and performance. What is the use of achieving success when there is no meaning to life? One way to tame stress is mindfulness, focusing on the present, not the past or future. CEOs must pursue hobbies and passions other than their work.

14. Learn When to Hold and When to Fold: CEOs must demonstrate flexible fortitude. They must know when to hold and when to fold, which is not always easy. It requires clarity in goal setting and prioritizing activities in harmony with organizational principles and philosophies. It requires an extraordinary sense of purpose and intuition to let go and move on, especially with the knowledge that we can't completely control events in the future.

15. Be Bold to Lead in Turbulent Times: The present global business environment demands not only soft leaders but also hard leaders. When times are good anyone can be at the helm. When the sailing is rough the real leaders and CEOs come to the forefront to sail the ship successfully to the shore. Abraham Lincoln is an apt example of a leader who led America during turbulent times. When America had the two challenges of slavery and Civil War, Lincoln demonstrated his leadership acumen by managing all stakeholders, including his political rivals, effectively to abolish slavery and ensure the unity of America.

16. Adapt Locally to Grow Globally: CEOs must emphasize growth and expansion both locally and globally. And it is a very big challenge, because the expectations and aspirations of local and global customers and clients are often different. It is indeed a tough task to balance both. It is essential to strengthen and grow locally to grow globally with a long view. That means there is a need for having both short-term and long-term goals for local and global needs.

17. Appreciate Diversity: Appreciate the fact that the world is small and getting smaller. Every day there are more ways to connect physically and virtually. Additionally, rapid growth in technology has become both a boon and a bane for CEOs. People from different communities and countries work together to accomplish organizational goals and objectives. There is an urgent need to understand various cultures to develop cultural intelligence and competence. "Respect to all and disrespect to none" must be the slogan the CEOs preach and practice to lead in the current diversified global world.

18. Practice Continuous Dissatisfaction: It is essential to celebrate accomplishments, but never get complacent. Be prepared mentally for competitors to enter into your business always. Instead of resting on laurels, CEOs must deliver effectively to the satisfaction of all stakeholders, including customers, employees, financial institutions, board members, and shareholders. CEOs must always think of "what next" to move forward aggressively to pursue new opportunities.

19. Encounter Economic Decline: Companies around the world need to act in collaboration as we move forward with opportunities. Ensuring sustainability of businesses is an imperative. In fact, CEOs are more concerned about sustainability of their business since 2009 due to global financial crisis. It threw a few globally respected-companies into near bankruptcy including General Motors and Citigroup. The CEOs who were on the offensive mode started to become defensive to ensure sustainability of their businesses. There are many successful CEOs who checked economic decline with their visionary leadership. Alan Mulally one such CEO who turned around Ford Motor Company when it was close to bankruptcy with his unique and innovative leadership style.

20. Avoid Clinging to Status Quo: CEOs must not cling to business models and systems that worked in the past, because what worked in the past and present might not work in the future. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has long avoided maintaining the status quo. He is a visionary leader with clarity in his approach to business. He turned selling books online into a multi-billion-dollar business that has changed retailing forever.

21. Invest in the Future: Provide leadership development training programs to employees regularly. It helps them perform well and grow as leaders. For instance, Jack Welch shared his experiences through leadership development training programs at GE. Additionally, he spent more than half of his time meeting people, thinking about people, understanding people, reviewing people, hiring people and interviewing people.

CEOs frequently find themselves dealing with conflicting pressures and demands. They come across paradoxes and dilemmas daily. They need a wide range of skills - and the personal aptitude - to deal with the challenges of a dynamic global business environment. If they can keep their employees happy they will have a better chance of keeping their customers happy. Happy customers improve profitability. Hence, successful chief executives value their employees, add value to their companies and grow top become great leaders.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Professor M.S. Rao

Professor M.S.Rao, Ph.D. is the Father of ‘Soft Leadership’ and Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with 35 years of experience and the author of 30 books including the award-winning ‘21 Success Sutras for CEOs’

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