Simple Advice for Becoming a Good, Eventually Great, CEO

It is important to spend time "sharpening the saw" which is a metaphor for improving yourself as an executive, and yes even the CEO. This should be a multi-faceted approach and include:

1. Use a mentor or coach that has 10+ years’ experience as a CEO - not an accountability coach which has become common but provide little value to senior people unless they have decades of experience working as manager and/or leader. In the old days a five year apprenticeship was used for any complex skill or art. Leadership, management and your industry will require this amount of time doing a complex job like CEO too.

2. Reading - Learn from the masters and gurus. I read 4-6 books per month for 20+ years. There is no replacement for this. A MBA is a small fraction of the knowledge and experience you need to be an effective CEO. It is far more “Art” then skill that must be learned from experience and applying principles.

3. Be flexible, not set in your ways. Many people get locked into a way of working that was successful in the past but it not the right way for today as a larger, growing company with different structure or other changing circumstances. You must avoid "reflex decisions" and think through the variables involved. This kills many companies. Formerly great companies like DEC, Wang and many others died because they could not accept the new realities of the marketplace and change their habits, strategy and focus.

4. Network with other CEOs and go to industry events to have direct contact with both customers and competitors. CEOs sometimes get isolated and the information they get is filtered, not raw. This can cause bad decisions.

5. Build a team of smart and experienced people around you. Do not just hire low level, cheap people. There should be 1 strong and experienced manager for every 7-10 people in the company. Entrepreneurs that try to do it all get stuck micromanaging and do not grow themselves, or even let their people develop. Great companies require a team, not a superman/woman.

6. Learn “Best Practices” and benchmark all processes and departments with metrics. You cannot improve what you do not measure. Force a process mentality on the company for constant improvement (Kaizen), documentation and to enable training new people. Six Sigma is a good framework for the mentality, though overkill for small companies.

Now allow five years to become good and ten years to become great, like any other true art. 

Key Leadership Focus For CEOs and Companies Grow