Six CEO’s- One Week, Part Two- What I Learned

Part twoEarlier in the week I posted about how I reached six CEO’s in one week via Social Media.

Reaching the CEO’s was great, however, wasn’t the main point of the exercise.

The main point was to spend an hour or so with each of them and learn something.  Learn anything.  After all, it is far less than 1% of us that will become a CEO in our lifetime so the rare air that is spoken amongst them is valuable insight.

Once again, I will not name who I had the honor of spending time with.  I will share a few pieces though that I think are valuable to everyone.  There were several themes that came up in most of the conversations and even a few that each CEO stated were critical the success of his/her organization.

Here they are:

1)  Never stifle idea sharing.  Each and every CEO stated this in some form when I asked “What is one thing you can never do in a successful company?”  Ideas are what continue to grow an organization and not allowing for the comfortable flow of them is brutal on the growth of a company.  The biggest take away from this was to allow the ideas from all levels of the organization.  As one CEO put it best “I want ideas from everyone, especially the newest team members.  After all, they don’t know the rules yet so they don’t have a bias towards what they think they cannot do.”

2)  Dump protocol.  Spend time with members from all facets of the team.  I was surprised at the responses I received when I asked “What does your protocol look like and how important is it to your organization?”  All of them without hesitation blasted the idea of using formal protocols in management and ultimately positioned it as an outdated concept.  It relates back to #1 and if too much protocol is in place, you stifle flow of ideas.  Realistically we all know that there has to be some protocol in place for approvals and such but it is appearing that our socially engaged world is breaking down the protocols of communication.

3)  Read and encourage learning, growth.  This one wasn’t a surprise to me and it came from the question “What is one trait that you think it is important for a leader to impress on his/her team?”  There are many stats out there that show that the most successful people in their careers read at least one non-fiction book a month.  Additionally they journal, write and network regularly to share and learn.

4)  Leave work.  Travel.  Four out of my six CEO’s brought this up when asked “What is critical to staying successful in the long term, no matter the position?”  Interesting was that most felt you had to disconnect and re-energize.  One CEO stated it very well.  “We are more connected to our work than ever before.  We only have 24 hours in a day, and since we cannot produce extra time, that means we are pulling time away from other aspects of our life like family.  That is a mistake and a leadership failure.  Get away from work.  Travel.  Be with your family.  You will be a better leader, employee and spouse.”

5)  Spend time with leaders in other industries.  Five out six CEO’s offered a version of this when asked “Outside of reading and more in the line of social connection, how do you garner new insight into a rapidly changing marketplace?”  Now that I look back at it, the question was kind of a set up but the idea is there.  Other industries open your eyes up to different ways of doing things.  It doesn’t pigeon hole you into the same ole way of doing things.  Sales 2.0 is a perfect example of this.  A sales system once used for a very specific portion of the tech industry, is now considered a viable and strong selling model across a broad spectrum of industries.  Without leaders meeting with other industries, this would not have been realized.

6)  Let go of what works.  I left this for last because a few CEO’s told me this and I was shocked at the answer as it is completely opposite of what we learn traditionally.  I asked “For organizations to continue to grow the way markets operate now, what has to happen?”  Answer “Let go of what works” came out of the first CEO and continued to appear throughout my meetings.  This is totally a shot across the bow of Good to Great and any other primary source of business literature of the past 100 years, but it is powerful and right on if you really dig into it.  The marketplace changes faster than it ever has.  In some cases, instantly.  A clothing company endorsing a major athlete can learn of a scandal via Twitter and by days end lose their most viable commodity.  Now what?  The message from the CEO’s was this.  It is easy to sit on what is working at the moment but you will get burned.  Always have a re-invention plan ready that you can execute in an instant.  At the first glimpse of a shift, go with it.  No hesitation.  No regret.  If you wait, you will sink.  One CEO stated it well “Re-grouping or changing how you go to market is at minimum a six month time frame.  To me, that is six months I can steal your clients if my plan is already in place and grow market share.”

Now, these were not all the lessons and insights I learned that day by any means and the bulk of my conversation wasn’t asking questions.  It was connecting to new leaders and simply doing what we are talking about in #5.  You see, I was a value added piece to them as well in that I could bring insight into my industry, especially Ed Tech and how it may fit in their world.  That is what this is all about in the end.

Build your expertise.  Learn how to share it.  Reach out with it.

Your comments are welcomed.

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One thought on “Six CEO’s- One Week, Part Two- What I Learned

  1. Nice write up Joseph. This is a very interesting and varied set of responses. 1,2,3 & 6 are the most telling to me. Thanks for the insight.

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