Do you have what it takes to occupy the corner office? Does residency require myriad academic degrees, a history of moneymaking successes or maybe a family friend on the board? The truth, according to author Adam Bryant in his new book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs, is that most leaders share some specific qualities or ‘X factors’ any of us could develop. And better yet, obtaining them will make anyone a great manager or better employee.
The author, a Sunday weekly featured columnist for The New York Times, compiles more than 70 interviews with CEOs, such as Alan Mulally of Ford Motor Company, Ursula Burns at Xerox, John Donahoe at eBay and Steve Ballmer at Microsoft. Bryant’s book offers first-person accounts that resonate with lessons from leaders at all levels of industry-leading organizations. These leaders offer rich and entertaining lessons learned in the school of hard knocks.
All of Bryant’s interviewees share five unique qualities: passionate curiosity, battle-hardened confidence, team smarts, simple mind-set and fearlessness. These characteristics, the author contends, make the difference between getting that corner office or being relegated to a room without a view.
As an educator, I love that the first quality of great CEOs is that they are the best students in the room. In front of employees, customers and shareholders, they exude self-reliance to spare. But behind the scenes, Bryant writes, all the CEOs admitted to an intense curiosity for how things work and what others know. Their ability to ask the right question was more important to them than being the smartest guy in the room. The inquisitiveness of being a lifelong learner is an important attribute of leading that is often overlooked. Every leader can learn from Bryant’s assessment of a corner office holder’s ‘team smarts.’ Who among us doesn’t need the ability to know who has their back, who is a playmaker or who will make a great assist? Successful CEOs know how their employees will act and more importantly, they know how they will react. Team smarts, Bryant writes, is the skill of recognizing the players a team needs, then bringing them into the huddle around a common goal. But my favorite stories are those about fearlessness. Risk-takers are those who do more than they’re told to do. They knock things off-kilter, not because they want to hurt a good thing, but just to see if ‘good’ can be made better. This is central to those in the corner office and it is what they look for in others. They eat change for breakfast and are still hungry.
Author Bryant admits that learning to lead is hard and although the title, perks and power might seem alluring, we all know the job is not for everyone. According to The Corner Office, getting to a company’s top spot is not something out of reach for anyone. This is a great summer read and you are sure to find some pertinent takeaways to put to use when you get back into the office. LN
Benjamin Ola. Akande is Dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology and chief of corporate partnerships at Webster University.
Follow him on Twitter: @Benjamin_Akande