This is not your average blog post about how to become a CEO. There is an abundance of articles about what the best CEOs do on a daily basis, how CEOs run their businesses, and what characteristics make a great CEO. But, at the end of the day, actually becoming a CEO is just as much about politics and setting the right professional trajectory as it is your skills in leadership, development, and strategy.
If you have aspirations of leading a company, it can be daunting to think about all the pieces that will need to fall into place to turn your dream into a reality. Instead of racking your brain about all of that, why not focus on the one thing you can control—your actions. In this post, I’ve compiled a list of six big actions today’s best leaders do repeatedly. Consider adopting some or all of these practices yourself and begin to see the positive changes.
Stop Watching TV and Start Reading Books
Let’s face it—most of us don’t spend our daily lives being mentored by the smartest people in the world. When you read, you elevate yourself beyond whatever your current situation might be. And this is not just theory. Some of history’s most lauded leaders, including Steve Jobs and Phil Knight, were known to have a voracious appetite for reading books.
But, like pretty much everything that’s good for you, reading can be hard. It takes time and it takes giving up habits that are, quite frankly, just easier to do. The good news is, there’s a wealth of knowledge and hacks out there that you can use to get started reading more than you’ve ever read before. CEO Elle Kaplan has an excellent list of the things you should be doing now to become a better reader tomorrow. Tim Ferriss famously devised a tactic he says will make you read 300% faster. There is no reason not to try this. There are no downsides, but the benefits could pay huge dividends.
Adam Bryant, the New York Times writer of The Corner Office column, says that one of the most obvious themes he noticed while interviewing CEOs for several years was that CEOs are naturally curious and will question everything. At first, this sounds pretty obvious. People don’t make huge differences in the world by sticking to the status quo. But, think harder about your daily life. How much easier is it to just go with the flow and be agreeable than it is to develop a stance and challenge what’s happening around you?
Develop and Use Empathy
Challenging the status quo or the opinions of others around you doesn’t also mean you need to be harsh or unlikeable. I think we’ve all met someone who seems to be disagreeable for the sake of argument. One of the most important responsibilities of being a good CEO is growing and grooming a team of high-quality people. It’s virtually impossible to do this well if you’re unable to empathize with the people around you.
Steer into Challenging Problems
Adam Bryant also noticed that most of his CEOs had developed a habit of seeking fires to fight. If you happen to be close to your company’s CEO or to anyone who has ever owned a business, you may have recognized this particular characteristic. They inexplicably seem to be doing something new or different or fighting yet another new fire every single day. This is because CEOs thrive on making their companies better. In our daily lives, most of us frequently choose to ignore problems in hopes that they will resolve on their own or that someone else with a better approach will solve them for us. The best CEOs have developed a mindset that makes them the best person for the job, no matter how challenging.
Keep a Tight Focus
CEOs may seem like they have tons of irons in the fire, but when they’re solving a problem, you can bet that problem is their number one focus until it’s solved. Bryant says that it’s difficult to find a great CEO getting distracted by things tangential to or outside of the core things that need to be addressed. Most admirably, the best CEOs don’t bother worrying about their career growth or what they should be doing to continually rise. Because the world we live in is great at fracturing our attention across multiple action items, you’ll need to train yourself to focus on the things that are most important so that you can make real progress.
Recommended Read: 4 Inarguable Reasons Multitasking is Absolutely Ruining You
Take an Improv Class
A major study of CEO actions that was published in the Harvard Business Review revealed that one of the major traits of the most effective CEOs was proactively adapting and responding to situations. Adaptability and confidence in the moment are not always traits we inherit from birth. In fact, even the most outgoing among us can fail to step up to the plate when called upon. This is why I love taking improv classes or doing improv exercises. Courses like this are designed to make you more emotionally and socially flexible in the moment. Just like the business world, improvisation is unrehearsed and unplanned, and developing that muscle is critical to taking action when it’s most needed.
I hope you enjoyed this list. It can be hard to wade through the soft advice most articles give you for how to be a winning CEO, especially since most of the advice on the market assumes you’re already on your way to being the leader of your business. In fact, these seven tactics are things any one of us can put into practice right now to develop the traits recognized in the world’s most impactful CEOs.