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.

The People You Should Lead For

I leaned back at my desk, stared up at the ceiling and I said out loud, “It should be this easy all of the time.” I knew everyone on the team was on the same page, a key team member acquired a new skill, and there had been an increase in performance against our leading KPI’s. It just felt as though everything I was doing as a leader was right. As I packed up my bag feeling pretty fantastic, I couldn’t wait to get home to see my wife and play with my kids.

Unfortunately, the minute the home door opened the “had it all figured out” feeling dissipated. Kids were crying, there were problems at school, and I missed dinner again.  During this moment, something I learned from Dale Partridge hit me like a brick wall:

“Success at work without success at home, isn’t success at all.”

So I stepped up and was the best husband and dad I could be the rest of the night. That evening, as I sat down to finish up work, I thought, “Both the people I lead at work and the the people I lead at home are both really important to me, but what’s harder leading at work or leading at home and how can I be better at both?”

To find an answer, I began asking the question to every guest that came on the “Follow My Lead Podcast”. From last week’s episode with Entrepreneur Mac Lackey, to SAP CEO Bill McDermott, to Chick-fil-A’s DeeAnn Turner, and the 20 other guests before them came eerily similar answers: “Both are hard, but being a leader at home tends to be harder.” Albeit, a small sample size, it’s eye opening that 90% of guests say being a leader at home is harder.

Need more substantial proof? Some of the great leaders in history have had stellar professional leadership records but rocky track records leading at home. Take Martin Luther King Jr. for example. He inspired millions during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s and won the nobel peace prize in 1964, but much has been written about extramarital affairs. Abraham Lincoln, widely known as one of the 3 best Presidents in US history, and was responsible for keeping the country together in the 1860’s, was portrayed by the media as a great father. But those close to Lincoln referred to him as “often absent”.

Whether you believe it’s harder to lead at work or lead at home, the thing you can’t argue with is: it’s not easy being a great leader in either place but you owe it to the people in both places to become a become a better leader.  In an effort to help you be a better leader at work and at home here are a few lessons you can implement:

Be ridiculously consistent.

No one likes a leader that is inconsistent with their vision, approach, standards, or how they hold people accountable. I used to have a leader who had completely different standards based on your role and how they were feeling that day. It was like walking on eggshells because one day something was okay and the next day it was the end of the world. Do your best to be consistent both at the office and at home.

Regardless where you are, be present.

We instituted a new policy at the office last week. When we are in a meeting no one on the team has their cell phone in front of them during the meeting. It was like we all were half present, still checking texts, emails, or anything more important than accomplishing what we were trying to accomplish during that window of time. I know most of us (myself included) are guilty of getting home and not being present with our family around the dinner table or during bedtime because we are checking Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, or responding to an urgent email. Turn your attention and focus on the moment at hand – the time will mean more and you will get more enjoyment out of things when you are truly present.

Give all you have the minute you walk in the door.

A mentor of mine always told me something I will never forget, “If you are going to do something, do it well.” If you are going into the office today, do it well and to the best of your ability. Same goes for leading at home. Regardless of the type of day you had at the office, put on your big boy pants and be the husband, wife, parent, friend, mentor, son or daughter you need to be. Those who look up to you will remember nothing more than the ATTENTION, TIME and LOVE you give them.

Make other people the priority.

A great test of where you are in your journey towards personal improvement is how well and how often you are able to think about other people first and make their needs a priority over your own. I don’t pretend this is easy and it is something you have to work at all the time because it’s not in our human nature. Without question the leaders that have made the biggest impact on me, have been ones that made me a priority over their own ambitions and used my progress as the benchmark for how successful they were as a leader.

Understand you aren’t perfect.

No one is perfect. Let me repeat myself. NO ONE IS PERFECT! Your ability to keep this in the forefront of your mind at work and at home will allow you the empathy needed to be a great leader. Leadership so often comes down to empathizing with another’s situation and figuring out what inspires them to become the best version of themselves. If you think you walk on water, your ability to empathize and connect with others will be a long uphill battle.

It’s my hope that regardless of the kind of leader you are at work and at home today, these reminders will help you be better tomorrow. Do you agree with my podcast guests or do you feel it’s harder to be a leader at work than at home?

Online Leadership Challenge. LearnLoft’s 10 Day Leadership Challenge to help modern professionals improve their leadership skills in just two weeks.  It’s filled with Microlearning videos, leadership challenges, downloadable resources, social learning, and expert leadership feedback. You can also sign up for their weekly leadership newsletter.

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.

Online Leadership Challenge. LearnLoft’s 10 Day Leadership Challenge to help modern professionals improve their leadership skills in just two weeks.  It’s filled with Microlearning videos, leadership challenges, downloadable resources, social learning, and expert leadership feedback. You can also sign up for their weekly leadership newsletter.

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!