HBR Whiteboard Session: 4 Things Successful Executives Do Differently.

Wow, just re-found this 5 minutes 56-second video with I had bookmarked. I usually hate these “Five Things Successful Executives Do” etc., but this one was a pretty good framework of four recurring patterns — instead of “do your taxes yourself.” or “smile more.” or all the other nonsense you read on clickbait. This one has some useful underlying data and insights.


1. Breadth

Leaders who could do the widest possible view of the organization. They could see how all the pieces fit together. […] They knew where competitive capabilities came together at the seams of the organization.

2. Context

Leaders who had deep knowledge of how their industry and their business made money. They could spot the trends coming down the horizon to disrupt their organizations. They could see and anticipate their consumer and customer needs. They paid attention to what was happening outside their organization. But they also paid attention to the tea leaves of the culture, they could read the vibe.

A common mistake how we pick leaders: We train them by telling them they have a track record to ignore context, instead of to read the context.

3. Choice

Leaders who had the amazing ability to integrate intuition, data, and other voices to construct well-crafted decisions. They were not afraid to say ‘no.’ These leaders knew they had to narrow the organization on a few choices to focus in order to succeed. Too many executives get to senior level spots, and they are too afraid to disappoint people, and they do allow way too many ‘yes’es to the organization. And in doing that, they dilute the resources, they dilute the focus of the organization, and they institutionalize mediocraty to the organization because everybody is working on way too many things far more than the organization could ever absorb.

The greatest abuse of power we found was the abandonment of it. Leaders abdicating power in their roles because they were too afraid to exercise and use it.

4. Connection

Leaders everybody wants to work for: they’re kind, they’re smart, they’re compelling, they’re credible, they have great ideas, and most importantly, you know you’re going to learn from them. These were the leaders who solicit feedback from other people, and when they get it, they listen to it. And they act upon it. They intentionally prioritize their stakeholder relationships. They know who within their organization they rely on for success, and who relies on them for success. They invest intentionally in building these relationships. They work hard on a regular basis to ensure that the level of trust they need is there for those relationships. 

And most importantly: They make the success of these people their priority. They put other’s agendas on their own agenda.

Thoughts? Opinions? Comments? Corrections?