7 Leadership Lessons You Can Learn From a Great CEO

In many ways, the current beliefs and thinking around leadership are amazing compared to the leadership beliefs of prior generations. No longer does it feel like leaders have to rule with an iron fist, not care about their people, or be afraid to show vulnerability in front of those people.

Instead, it is beginning to be encouraged to live out a simple definition of leadership Lolly Daskal and I discussed on the podcast:

Leaders are those making a positive impact and influencing others to action

There might be no better example for modern leaders to look up to and learn from than SAP CEO Bill McDermott. Since he became the sole CEO of SAP in May 2014, he’s gotten it done in the results category (shares have risen over 30 percent)–and his commitment to making a positive impact on the world and influencing others to action is second to none.

I interviewed him on the Follow My Lead podcast, and he had a lot to say about leadership. He’s the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company–but his thoughts are great for those aspiring to leadership roles, front-line management, or someone currently in the C-Suite.

Here are seven of his best leadership lessons, drawn from our conversation:

1. Lead with a higher purpose

Simon Sinek’s famous “Golden Circle” of why, how, and what is a perfect place to start. McDermott communicates to his 80,000 employees — why they are there and why they matter.

As McDermott says, “Having a higher purpose has to touch both the customer and your people because you are playing for stakes beyond money.”

If you are running a company and haven’t defined your purpose for existence beyond making money, don’t do another thing. If you are thinking of starting a company determine the purpose, before you even think about developing a website.

2. Surround yourself with better people

One of the biggest mistakes I see entrepreneurs make is thinking they have to be be the expert in everything. McDermott said he learned early in his career that “every leader has to have the humility to recognize their success will be based on choosing the very best people.”

One of the best ways to surround yourself with better people is to know your strengths and then hire people around you who excel in your areas of weakness.

3. Learn from others, but be authentic

“At the end of the day leaders have to be authentic,” McDermott told me. “And the only way to do that is to learn from other great leaders and make those lessons your own.”

Regardless of what the leader above you is telling you about hitting numbers, making cuts, or giving up on a person early in their journey, you have to do it your way. Make bets on people you believe will create long term growth, success, and improve your culture.

4. Don’t mess up the business strategy

McDermott says, “Leaders can be forgiven for a lot of mistakes, but they will never be forgiven for a bad strategy.”

There are a lot of different kinds of strategies a leader can put into action. But if the strategy doesn’t help your customer be more successful, then it has little-to-no chance to succeed.

5. Make trust the linchpin

One of the first questions people ask themselves when they meet someone is, “Is this person trustworthy?”

The only way to earn trust is to give trust unconditionally, first. Humans have enormous instinctual power to know who is the real deal. Show your people who you are every single day through your actions not your words.

6. Focus on the root cause of success

Every organization has to get results for the business to survive. It’s one thing to know the results, but it’s much more valuable to understand the root cause of the results. If you understand the root cause of what produces results then you have the power to motivate your people.

7. Remember, it’s a work in progress

Business and leadership is a journey and keeping the mindset of the long game will always serve you well. In McDermott’s words: “Every day we have to be constantly reinventing what we brought from yesterday and keep dreaming about what we can be tomorrow.”

Regardless of how you feel about SAP or Bill McDermott on a personal level, ask yourself: How many of these lessons are you implementing on an ongoing basis? If you identify some gaps, there is no better time to start filling them than the present.

This article originally appeared on Inc.com.

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft and host of the Follow My Lead Podcast. He is also the author of F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader, a contributing editor on Inc.com, and is passionate about the development of modern professionals. You follow him on instagram @johngeades.

Why Modern Leadership is So Hard

In many ways the current beliefs and thinking around leadership seem amazing compared to the leadership beliefs of prior generations.

No longer does it feel like leaders have to rule with an iron fist, not care about the people being lead, or are afraid to show vulnerability in front of those people.

Instead it is encouraged to be a servant leader, to be committed to the development of people, and to try and create more leaders, not more followers.

In spite of all of this, being a leader today can feel almost impossible because it seems like you are being pulled in two widely different directions. On one hand, many executives in the c-suite expect immediate results and have the mindset of profit over people because they have shareholders and quarterly earning expectations to make. So their first line leadership team must get results and make an impact quickly or they are deemed a failure. On the other hand, you have to play the long game; with your primary focus being the people you lead. Not to mention you must cater to the range of different generations and display the leadership styles that each individual on the team needs to perform their best. It puts modern professional leaders in a difficult situation and it’s hard to know which is the right path to follow.

Lead How You Authentically Lead or Lead How You are Being Told to Lead

A recent survey showed that there are roughly 2 Million new employees promoted into leadership roles in organizations every year.  Consequently, 60% of them fail. Meaning 1.2M people fail at leadership every year. It’s astounding to think about and the effects are enormous:

  • Loss of confidence
  • Lack of work fulfillment
  • Eroding workplace culture

The list could go on and on, so here are some things you can do to avoid becoming a statistic in the failure column:

Learn From Others, But Be Authentic

Just this week, I interviewed SAP CEO, Bill McDermott on the Follow My Lead Podcast and he said something interesting. “At the end of the day leaders have to be authentic and the only way to do that is to learn from other great leaders and make those lessons your own.”  Regardless of what the leader above you is telling you about hitting numbers, making cuts, or giving up on a person early in their journey, you have to do it your way. Make bets on people that you believe will create long term growth, success, and improve your culture.

Invest in Your Development

Don’t wait for the next corporate leadership training initiative or pass another bookstore without picking up a leadership book. Professionals are in the golden age of education.  Every day we create as much information as the world did from the dawn of civilization until 2003. To put this in perspective, blog writers post 1,400 blogs and YouTube users upload 72 hours of content a minute.  Yes, I said A MINUTE.  Online programs, MOOCS, books, podcasts; the amount of valuable content is literally limitless. If you are reading this you are on your way but don’t stop at reading a blog while you are at work.  You get to decide whether to waste time watching a mindless TV show when you get home or invest in your development.  As Tony Robbins famously said, “There are only two options: make progress or make excuses.”

Get Really Good at Thinking of Others

When you look at a picture on Facebook or Instagram, who is the first person you see?  Nearly 100% of the time it’s yourself.  We are hardwired to think of ourselves and our own self interest first, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. You can train yourself to think of others first and put your own self interests to the side.  I don’t pretend this is easy, but in order effectively lead, you absolutely have to think about your team first and yourself second.

You will never be a perfect leader because leadership isn’t a destination, it’s a journey.  You will fail more than you succeed, but what’s most important is you understand that being a modern leader is hard.  Through work, self discipline, and authenticity, you will provide yourself the best opportunity to be successful.

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8 Leadership Lessons from SAP CEO Bill McDermott

I certainly am not in the reported 25% of Americans that didn’t read a book last year, but my typical reading behavior consists of getting approximately a quarter of the way through a book…. And then life gets in the way. This time is was different, since I had just come off of 2 unfinished books, I decided to buy a hardback cover and download the audio version on Audible.com. It didn’t take long before I was completely hooked and had immersed myself into the Winners Dream – A Journey from Corner Store to Corner Office, by SAP CEO Bill McDermott.

Bill’s story is unique and one that truly is the American dream. Below are 8 keys to being a better leader, professional and person that I took away from Mr. Bill McDermott.

  1. Get Better- Regardless of your personal or company accomplishments, we are never done. Getting better at our chosen professions, hobbies, parenting, etc. is an ongoing process, so be relentless and power your inner Tom Brady.
  2. Empower Others- The most important thing leaders can do is empower teams and individuals. Empower them to be creative, make decisions, and be impactful.
  3. Self Realization– We all have told a lie in our lives but the easiest person to lie to is ourselves. You have to be able to look in the mirror and be honest with yourself every moment of every day. No Exceptions!
  4. Setbacks Matter- Imperfect periods in our professional life have a purpose but you won’t know why until later. Keeping a positive and inquisitive attitude during times that are difficult, will make a huge difference.
  5. Values- The values that are a must in a professional are: accountability, professionalism, teamwork, and passion and are the keys to being successful. Companies built with these core values are much better suited for challenges, hardships or downturns.
  6. Pay your Respects- Remember who influenced you, helped developed your skills, promoted you, provided opportunity, etc. Don’t wait until it’s too late to tell those people thank you. (maybe that’s why this was written….Thanks Bill)
  7. Purpose- Work for a purpose. If the job doesn’t provide anything other than money find ways to volunteer, or get involved in causes bigger than your job. There is nothing more fulfilling in this life than giving back and helping others.
  8. DREAM BIG!- Big dreams can’t live in small environments. Write down those dreams and goals and execute daily. Limiting thinking will produce limited results!

We can learn a lot from Bill’s story but the most important thing is putting these 8 keys into action in our daily life. Good luck on your personal Journey!