A Senior Executive Shares His Leadership Rules of the Road

Posted 03.07.2011

Roadsigns One of the most popular aspects of my company’s group coaching program, Next Level Leadership® for high potential leaders is the senior executive guest speakers who come in for a lunch time “what I’ve learned” conversation. They talk about what they’ve learned over the course of their career and what they’ve had to pick up and let go of as they’ve taken on bigger jobs. 

We recently hosted an executive who’s responsible for about a billion dollars of annual revenue in his company. He had some very solid and practical rules of the road about what it takes to be a successful senior leader.

Here are four of his leadership rules of the road:

You’ve got to be talent oriented.  If you’re not, you’re eventually going to crash and burn.  Remember that people vote with their feet.  The A+ people can work wherever they want.  In 2011, they’re not loyal to their company, they’re loyal to the people they work with. 

Discipline yourself to be an information eating machine.  Read the major newspapers (or their websites) every day.  (This executive’s favorites are the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.  Both good choices. I’d add the Financial Times to that list.)  Your clients and competitors are on the front page of the WSJ or the business section of the NYT. You’ve got to know what they’re doing as they’re doing it.  By the time information makes it into a monthly newsletter or an annual industry review it’s too late. Subscribe to and read the daily e-mail topical or industry newsletters that apply to your space.  Run monthly research projects on emerging trends or buzzwords in your industry.  Scour the web and become a mini-expert on those topics.

Develop your style by observing others.  Executive presence is one of those terms that is often used but is rarely clearly defined. One of the best ways to develop your executive leadership presence or style is to observe others who seem to have it. Look closely at their behaviors and develop your own personal style based on what you see. That will almost certainly include a degree of situational awareness that incorporates the flexibility to move away from you plan or your Power Point deck based on your read of the situation. 

Understand where others are coming from.  This is especially important when presenting to or making a request of the top leaders in an organization. The top leaders in business or government are usually scheduled all day down to the minute and usually have only a few moments as they’re walking to a meeting to get briefed by a staffer on what they have to do next. The big question they’re asking is “What do I have to decide in this next meeting?”  When you’re presenting to top leadership, make the decision point and request very clear.

So, those are some rules of the road from an executive who’s successfully operating at a pretty high level.  What do you agree or disagree with?  What other rules of the road would you add?