What does it take to become a successful business leader? This nebulous question is top of mind for many professionals—and with good reason. Although there's no clear-cut formula for success, the world's most effective leaders often share a number of similar behaviors.
Taking a close look at their methods and routines allows professionals to extract some valuable insights. Whether you're a CEO, CHRO, CFO, or you hold another C-Suite title, adopting habits that have been proven to propel leaders forward can have a positive effect on your own senior management career.
1. Rise Early and Get Enough Rest
It stands to reason that successful business leaders would be early birds. Waking up early produces more hours in the day within which to get things done.
According to The Wall Street Journal, 4 a.m. is the most productive time of the day as it allows people to work before distractions and "ceaseless interruptions" like emails and social media chatter set in. Some leaders leave their phones on airplane mode until they're ready to field calls, as this helps to keep those interruptions to a minimum. Others use the extra time to work on personal projects that may help boost their creativity in ways that can improve their business-related work.
Apple's Tim Cook, Virgin Group's Richard Branson, and Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Square are among the CEOs who wake up early every day. As expected, The Wall Street Journal's reporter found those who rise early don't stay up late; most of the interview subjects were in bed by 9 p.m.
Getting enough sleep is of course critical, too. In her popular 2010 TED Talk Arianna Huffington, now CEO of Thrive Global and author of The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, said "the way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life is getting enough sleep."
2. Read Widely
Something else many business leaders have in common is their commitment to reading, both within their field and beyond. Reading can educate, inspire and motivate by offering different perspectives and situations that may run parallel to running a business or managing a workforce. Reading can also act as focus training, conditioning one's brain to zeroing in on the task at hand and absorbing everything that is presented, an obvious skill for a corporate America setting.
On his blog, Bill Gates reviews books that range from an autobiography by former president Jimmy Carter to graphic novels and fiction for young adults. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also reads across genres, from business to history and humor.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has famously said he was "raised by books." Gail Kelly, former CEO of Westpac, recommends cultural and historical titles, while Amazon's Jeff Bezos reportedly has a reading list that includes The Innovator's Dilemma, Sam Walton: Made in America, and author Nassim Taleb's The Black Swan, which explores identifying and coping with unexpected events. In the immortal words of former American President Harry S. Truman, "Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers."
3. Employ the Right Talent
ALast year, the Harvard Business Review reported the results of a 10-year leadership study on what makes a top CEO. The goal was to demystify the decisions and practices that lead to C-Suite success.
Called the CEO Genome Project and conducted in collaboration with economists at the University of Chicago and Copenhagen Business School, and analysts from SAS Inc, the study reveals that leading CEOs share behaviors that include making quick, decisive decisions, having relationship skills that facilitate a deep understanding of stakeholders' needs, knowing how to adapt to difficult and unexpected challenges, and being reliable, predictable leaders.
To accomplish the latter, the study found that surrounding yourself with a strong team is vital. "For CEOs choosing talent, the stakes are high and the misses obvious. The successful ones move decisively to upgrade talent," the authors of the study wrote. It's also important to prioritize performance rather than comfort with, or loyalty to, teammates. While that may seem unpleasant, it's the only approach worth taking. CEOs must surround themselves with experienced, intelligent advisers.
4. Demand Consistency, from Others and Yourself
LIt may pay to read different types of books, but when it comes to daily routines consistency is usually best. Katia Beauchamp, co-founder and CEO of ecommerce site Birchbox, requires that her employees always note whether or not they need a response from her in their emails, as this helps her to prioritize her replies.
Demanding a consistent approach from yourself is equally important. In the Harvard Business Review, author and business blogger John Coleman reports the key to being a more strategic business leader is balancing consistency with agility. "Consistent leaders... plan diligently and produce excellent products and experiences for clients time and time again. They are diligent and possess resilience and grit," he writes, also noting the importance of learning how to adapt to change.
Andy Bailey, founder and CEO of business-coaching firm Petra Coach, makes sure he's consistently on time "for every appointment, every day, without exception. If a leader is consistently late, it tells others that he or she is unreliable or has no respect for the time of the individuals he or she works with," he says. "If he or she is on time, the opposite is true." Meanwhile Daymond John, CEO of sportswear brand FUBU, habitually tries to maximize his time, saying, "I'll do my emails when I'm on a plane, instead of when I'm in the office. I try to have my team members handle as much of the meetings as possible—I'll be involved in the last part so I don't have to sit through five separate meetings of the same purpose."
There may be no infallible secret to business success at the C-Suite level, but applying tried-and-true habits, along with methods for improving your everyday routine, can reduce professional inertia and lead to a more impactful and profitable career. Are you ready to give it a try? Or to enhance what you're already doing?
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