CEOs have countless priorities on their plate. From being responsible for the bottom line to managing the future direction and strategy of a brand.

While it may seem like they were born to be leaders, CEO success stories rarely happen overnight. Scientists have advocated that leadership can be cultivated, therefore, most CEOs have gotten to their position through decades of hard work and by making plenty of mistakes.

Even if you’re not thinking about how to become a CEO, they offer valuable insights into career development. Here’s some advice from the world’s best leaders on career success and effective management — as well as some essential learnings from those that got it wrong.

Get rid of interruptions

Research shows that every time we are interrupted from a task, it can take up to 25 minutes to get back on track. That’s why Dustin Moskovitz, CEO of Asana, believes scheduling work time without interruptions is key to getting the most out of yourself and your team.

“We practice ‘No Meeting Wednesdays’ to ensure everyone at the company gets a large block of time to focus on heads-down work without having to fit it in between meetings. This may be our most valuable cultural practice, and I encourage every company to consider adopting it,” Moskovitz advised.

Manage your energy levels

Some people are more productive in the mornings, while some find their rhythm in the afternoon and evening. The best leaders recommend figuring out what works for you — then block this time out for your most important tasks.

“I find it’s been immensely helpful for me to pay attention to when in the day I'm most productive (what hours, under what conditions) and aggressively guard that time for focused work,” Kathryn Mishew, CEO of The Muse revealed.

Invest in organisational health

Most leaders are fixated on locking down the right strategy to give them the advantage in the future. However, the internal health of an organisation is an equally important key to business success.

“While strategy is important, organisational health is an even more critical long-term advantage,” according to Mark McClain, CEO of Sailpoint.

“Just like we all do with our own physical health, we have regular company check-ups to ensure our company is healthy from the inside out”.

Chase discomfort and failure

The world’s top CEOs all share this quality: they actively pursue uncomfortable situations and view them as an opportunity to grow and learn.

As demonstrated by Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo: “I always did something I was not ready to do. That’s how you grow. When you push through those moments [of doubt], that’s when you have a breakthrough”.

Pierre Nanterme, CEO of Accenture, agrees. He says feeling comfortable in your current position is a sign you need to change things up.

“Do you feel good in your role? If yes, that’s the perfect time for you to experiment with something new, to get out of your comfort zone,” Nanterme advised.

And finally, according to Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla: “Failure is an option. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough”.

And some important lessons of what not to do

Not all CEO and entrepreneur stories end well. One of the most recent examples of this is the controversy surrounding Adam Neumann, former CEO of WeWork. Neumann recently stepped down from his role following intense scrutiny of his actions as CEO after the company submitted their IPO prospectus.

Neumann allegedly had several glaring examples of conflicts of interest throughout his career, from using inflated shares as collateral to buying property and leasing it back to WeWork, or violating the IPO quiet period. However, Neumann’s mistakes provide valuable insights into what not to do:

  • Don’t try to solve financial problems by yourself, particularly if you’re not financially savvy. Surround yourself with experts in the fields you aren’t that knowledgeable in, and trust them to do their job.
  • Don’t step into the spotlight unless you’re ready. Think about, “What’s next?” every day and try to remain ahead of the game. The widespread backlash of the WeWork controversy may have been far less prominent had the company not been preparing to go public. If Neumann had asked “What’s next?”, he may have made different managerial decisions.
  • Don’t manage the same way you create. It takes more than great ideas to successfully grow and lead a team. Although Neumann was hailed as one of the classic success stories of entrepreneurs, it’s clear that he could have done with more training on business operations and leadership.
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