4 Ways to Level Up Your CEO Game
From embracing a missionary-over-mercenary sensibility to good reading habits, ways already capable leaders can ascend to the ranks of the remarkable.
When your business is in its infancy, it may seem impossible to attain the success of execs like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. But, of course, even these standouts have overcome critical barriers in their journeys to success, and there are ways of applying lessons they learned as a result.
1. Be a missionary, not a mercenary
A mercenary is principally concerned with generating money without necessarily considering business ethics in the process, while a missionary focuses on a higher calling. Being a member of the latter group doesn't mean that you shouldn't care about money, of course, but it’s vital to be mindful that the motivation for a business and its leaders cannot be exclusively pegged to financial incentives, but also to the desire to impact lives and the society around you for the better. It also means engaging in the often-humbling experience of leading others to that vision — helping them to both understand it and practice it for themselves. Missionaries partner with employees or other businesses to gain value in a win-win dynamic, whereas mercenaries want all benefits without leaving any for other parties.
Over time, mercenaries become transactional, rigid and decidedly less fun to work with. Their work relationships are transient, and people tend to move away from transactional people because they feel used by them, rather than included. However, if you operate with a missionary's zeal, you can forge long-lasting partnerships and engender loyalty among both staff members and customers. This gives you access to novel ideas and motivated workers, and also keeps open the doors of communication long after a partner or an employee leaves. Part of creating an inclusive culture like this is by providing excellent training, compensation and benefits to employees, along with dynamic team structures.
2. Create a funnel of nonconformity
Being elastic with ideas and quick on your feet is key to growing an enterprise, because the truth is that no amount of planning will prepare you completely for the unexpected, and facing challenges and mistakes is the best way to learn and move forward. First, train your mind to become a funnel for ideas by reading widely, voraciously and continuously. This helps you grow a fluid brand of intelligence, which helps you consider ideas quickly, reason them out and solve problems. It also allows you to generate better ideas and more dimensionally assess occasionally hard truths about your business, including its market and audience.
As you continue to read widely, you'll likely grasp that there are no perfect ideas, and that there’s wisdom in letting the market decide which are great for your business and which aren't. Then, it’s a matter of choosing quickly, avoiding speculating for too long and giving yourself a chance to learn from mistakes. Also, check the numbers instead of the narrative as you experiment with ideas, and remember that common practice isn't always the product of common sense. Find your truth in your results and move forward with resulting strategies.
Lastly, create quality alone time to think critically about your company, and support this habit by nourishing your body and mind via a healthy diet, exercise, good sleep and mental rest.
3. Remember that customer is king
It's no secret that we live in a time filled with information and options; your customer can quickly fire you and transfer their money elsewhere for better value. As CEO, your goal is to ensure that your business provides value for the customer. So, since you are the expert in your field, adopt as your personal mission to act as customers' agent by tirelessly identifying needs, then satisfying them. This process is a two-way street: First, empower potential customers by giving them the marketing and PR information needed to make decisions (your competitors are likely doing the same). Do your research, find out if there are any information gaps and fill them. Second, give customers a consistent and seamless experience. Show them what to expect when they interact with your brand: whether on your website, social networks or physical shops, provide a consistently satisfying experience. Also, be sure to maintain transparency in communication, especially when mistakes happen. Third, train employees to understand the business and your customers, and to act as company agents themselves. In addition, encourage staff members to engage customers more broadly, rather than simply seeking transactions. Because, even if someone doesn't buy from you today, they may come back, or recommend others. Aim for long-term success instead of short-term sales.
4. Be tenacious
For me, perseverance, self-regulation, consistency and resilience combined equals one word: tenacity. It’s also, in my experience, the key quality in growing a business year after year.
First, know your overall vision — the fuel that keeps you moving and provides a purpose for daily activities, but remember to break it down into actionable, achievable and measurable goals. Doing this helps you diversify your own role, as well as identify talent gaps and find solutions. It also prevents you and your workers from getting overwhelmed by responsibilities.
While it's crucial to know where you are going, it's equally important to identify what you are running from — to know what you don't you want your business to be. This will help you spot negative patterns and other barriers to success. It also enables you to reframe obstacles; instead of imagining them as unsolvable setbacks, you can objectively assess them as learning opportunities.
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