Our collective consciousness is defined by great leaders. Think about some of today's most recognizable household names: Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson. All have ascended to the top of business and achieved quasai-celebrity status, forging new ideas and products that shape the way we live today.
But while certain CEOs are renowned for their vision, passion and incredible courage, many more flounder before they've even begun. Why is this? What separates those generational icons from the CEOs whose names are destined to collect dust amidst the forgotten shelves of history?
Believe it or not, when we study exceptional leaders, we can actually pinpoint a number of shared characteristics attributable to their success. To make this more accessible, we've distilled these qualities down to four key attributes that you absolutely must master in order to become a more successful CEO.
In the words of Steve Jobs, "Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful; that's what matters to me." So without further ado, here are four ways you can become a more inspiring, effective and productive leader.
Clear decisions made quickly are better than perfect slow decisions. This rule applies more today than ever before. We move at a frenetic pace; as recent events at United Airlines showed, companies (and their leaders) need to react swiftly and decisively to address and allay customer concerns.
What's important to remember here is that time is your enemy. It may have been OK to wait a week or two weeks to respond to an incident like the United debacle back in 1975. If you're stuck in a time warp, then you need to remind yourself it's 2017. We can share information in seconds with the entire globe -- all with the click of a button. The best CEOs decide with speed and conviction; now, that doesn't mean you need to make knee-jerk reactions. But don't twiddle your thumbs either. Set yourself a deadline, speak to your trusted advisors and colleagues, and make a decision based on the best information at hand. This is a universal trait shared among the best leaders.
2. Engage For Impact
Being a CEO is really about understanding how to be an effective, inspiring leader. You might be the smartest, most intelligent person in the world, but if you can't rally and unite others around a cause, then you're going to struggle as a CEO.
Still, not everyone is a natural leader. Some people need to work at it, and that's totally fine. First, understand what your stakeholders really want (priorities) and drive forward with unrelenting focus to deliver on business results. Make it clear to people that they're important to the process and going to be part of a win. After all, business is a team effort, and the best CEOs know how to inspire collective action in the pursuit of a common goal.
But remember, don't shy away from conflict either. Often, conflict is necessary in the pursuit of business goals and performance excellence. Harness this in a healthy, productive way and create a culture of humble learning where everyone feels empowered to share his or her opinion.
3. Adapt Proactively
While the CEO is responsible for ensuring today's success, the very best always have one eye firmly on tomorrow. We often use the word "visionary" to describe this, and, it's true; the best leaders are the ones who predict and shape the future. Take a leaf out of Steve Jobs' book and spend 50 percent of your time focusing on long term goals. After all, the short-and-medium-term goals are usually already set in stone (and being acted upon). This strategy will allow you to get good at sensing change, enabling you to create more opportunities for smarter strategic moves.
And remember, the best CEOs deal with setbacks well. As Elon Musk says, "Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you're not innovating enough." It's all about how you learn from failure, and what message you send to your staff. Use failure to your advantage and watch as you grow at an unprecedented pace.
4. Deliver Reliably
The final piece of the puzzle might not sound too earth-shattering, but it's surprising how many CEOs fail to deliver on the most simple of promises. Before you do anything else, make sure you're able to deliver reliably on your goals and business objectives. Employees trust predictable leaders. In fact, as human beings, we're wired to seek environments that feel safe and comfortable.
Don't worry; this doesn't mean you need to play everything safe. By all means take risks! Just remember, when it comes to the basics (corporate communication, availability to staff, basic financial goals), make sure you hit your targets and instill a solid degree of confidence to motivate your team.