The November 17 issue of Fortune magazine is called ‘The Advice Issue’, in which they featured lessons and advice from 40 business leaders on various aspects related to business and career success.
Their advice touched upon some of the most important challenges that business leaders have to face: decision making, organisational values, hiring and retaining people, leadership styles, people/talent management and so on. We present below edited excerpts of the advice from 15 such leaders.
Executive Vice President-CVS Caremark Corporation
I like to run long distances. And part of it for me is sort of the joy of feeling the pain and the grit and knowing you have to dig deep. And I think a lot of times making business decision is like being a marathoner. In other words, you know what the finish line is that you really want to get to but, along the way, it’s not always pure joy. There are really hard moments. But if you keep your eye on the prize, it’s part of what drives you to get there.
Chairman, President and CEO-IBM
Never define yourself as a product and, in fact, I would augment it; never define yourself by your competition, either. If you live and define yourself by your product or competition, you will lose sight of who your customer is.
Chairman and CEO-PepsiCo
Never stop learning. Whether you’re an entry level employee fresh out of college or a CEO, you don’t know it all. Admitting this is not a sign of weakness. The strongest leaders are those who are lifelong students.
Chairman, President and CEO-Dow Chemical
People can be bought with their pockets and they can be stimulated with their brains. But only if you win their hearts will they give you their fullest efforts driven by their passions.
President and CEO-The AES Corporation
Never make an important decision while you are feeling emotional; either too happy, surprised, or angry. Similarly, never make a big decision until you have talked it over with people you trust who are knowledgeable about the matter. Then, be decisive once you have heard them out.
In a world of scarcity, the critical skill is to maximize opportunities. In the new world, where everything is abundant, the critical skill is to make good choices. We will have more opportunities in our lives than we could possibly have time to pursue. So the choices we make have even more significance.
President and CEO-Broadcom
The more complex our business decisions get, the greater the need to be accountable and transparent to our employees, our customers, our partners, and to the communities around the world where we work and live. Have we thought things through from everyone’s perspective? Can we explain and defend our decisions in public?
A year from now, what’s the story I want to see published on the cover of Fortune or the front page of the newspaper? It’s a good motivation for managers to set their goals and to work hard to achieve them. After all, managing to achieve success is a heck of a lot better than managing to avoid embarrassment.
I tell people starting out in business to care about their reputation. Their reputation will outlive the last quarter, how the year ended, or whether or not the deal got done. People remember character—how you act and behave. No one remembers what multiple you paid or how great an investment it was. But they remember if you were a good person, whether you were fair, and how compassionate you were. I tell people that they are paid to make difficult decisions but how they communicate and execute those decisions will last a lifetime. Life is a long time and deals will come and go, but your reputation will always stay with you.
Michael F. Mahoney
President and CEO-Boston Scientific
Good leaders put their teams first and create an environment where employees feel empowered to share ideas and feedback. Invest in your people and they will be invested in your business.
President and CEO-Huntington Ingalls Industries
I am a firm believer that leadership is a craft. I run an engineering and manufacturing company that builds complex military ships and provides engineer services for sophisticated products. But it’s the nearly 40,000 people who make us who we are, and they deserve the best leaders possible. Leadership should never be taken for granted. Just like welding, or engineering, or accounting, leadership is a skill that requires investment and practice.
CEO-The Priceline Group
In business and life in general, it is far more important (and difficult) to decide what you are not going to do than what you are going to do. Try to replay every direction in the negative: this means we won’t do X, Y, and Z. Focus and simplicity are workforce multipliers.
President and CEO-Western Union
Top leaders should put themselves in other people’s shoes and listen. If you listen to people, whether they are from the U.S. or Spain, Bangladesh or Brazil, Mexico or Russia, whether they are rich or poor, white or black, male or female, old or young, they make you grow, they keep you innovative, they keep you active.
F. Michael Ball
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing: it’s all about focus on the thing that will make the biggest impact on the business. Don’t be distracted by the little things.
My philosophy around people management: Don’t tell it “like it is,” tell it “as it could be.” In most cases, people understand the reality of the situation; the job of the manager is to provide an inspiring view of the future. I have found that people are far more willing to align and “give it all” when they understand the destination, and this drives both the employee and the organization to the best results.
Be flexible in your leadership style. Leaders should bring out the best in their people and that means learning to adapt to the situation and how people like to communicate in a team setting. Everyone has their own background and their own way of going about the day-to-day. A good leader knows to exhibit the right style for each person they meet in their daily dealings.
President and CEO-Los Angeles Opera
Don’t be afraid of tension and conflict. While it’s crucial that a leader not foment strife, it is equally important to have ballast against conventional wisdom, groupthink, and the path of least resistance.
For the pearls of wisdom from all 40 business leaders interviewed for the article, please visit Fortune.com
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