Five Ways To Be A Better Executive Leader

CEO at StoneAge | Keynote Speaker | Thought Leader | Board Member | Author | Podcast Host | YPO Member.

Executive leadership is challenging and not everyone is cut out for it. Even if they don’t have what it takes, many want to make it to the C-suite because it means more opportunities, bigger paychecks and increased influence. Having been a CEO for more than a decade, I’ve learned much about what makes an executive leader good. And what makes one, well, not so good. In fact, I started out as a pretty insufficient executive and had to learn how to lead a high-performing team and company through trial and error.

Due to inexperience and, if I’m honest, a bit too much ego, I made so many mistakes. I changed our strategic vision too often, impatient to see results. I hired the wrong people and let them stay with the company too long. I tolerated too much risk and I sometimes made emotional decisions. Looking back, I now understand that these experiences are necessary to become a great executive leader, and I am grateful for falling on my face more than a few times. But that doesn’t mean those times weren’t painful. Every executive leader, at least the best ones, must overcome mistakes and failures to be resilient enough to be at the top of their game for the long haul.

What makes executive leadership so hard?

There is no doubt that executive leaders are under a lot of pressure. They work long hours and have a heavy workload. They have to make the right decisions quickly, often without complete information. The overall success and well-being of the company fall on their shoulders, including developing and executing strategy, managing financial resources and ensuring that the company is meeting its goals. They must be effective communicators and create shared understanding. Executive leaders must navigate a complex landscape of stakeholders with diverse interests and perspectives, balancing competing priorities, ideas and opinions. Executive leaders are responsible for managing risk and making tough decisions that may have significant consequences for the company and its stakeholders. And, most importantly, they have to develop and build teams, inspiring them to do their best work and show up as their whole selves—not an easy task. All of this to say that performing at this level is consequential and executive leaders should take their roles and responsibilities seriously.

So how do you go about being a better executive leader?

Executive leaders have a significant impact on the success of their companies and the satisfaction of their employees. Here are my top five suggestions to improve your executive leadership capabilities.

1. Develop a plan to get things done.

Ineffective executive leaders don’t fully understand what needs to be done and how to make it happen. They assume that their teams are doing the work. Don’t be this kind of leader. Understand the business and the roadblocks to success, then work with your team to develop an action plan. Success always lies in execution, so track progress, course correct quickly and stay connected to your teams’ work.

2. Communicate effectively.

Effective communication is key to leading a team and ensuring everyone is on the same page. Make sure to listen to your team members and clearly articulate your vision and goals for the company so everyone knows in what direction to pull. And most importantly, be transparent. No one likes to be in the dark or be the last to discover what’s happening. Keep your communication honest, frequent and open.

3. Practice critical thinking and then make a decision.

As an executive leader, it’s essential to think critically and make well-informed decisions. Encourage your team members to do the same, and create an environment where different perspectives and ideas are welcome and considered. Look at all available information and weigh the pros and cons before deciding. By cultivating a culture of critical thinking, you can make better decisions for your company and stay ahead of the competition.

4. Foster a positive work culture and build strong teams.

A positive work culture can improve employee morale, retention and productivity. Create a supportive and inclusive environment for your team and encourage open communication and collaboration. Encourage your team members to continuously learn and grow in their roles. Provide opportunities for professional development, such as training and mentorship programs. And finally, practice empathy. As an executive leader, it’s essential to consider the perspective and needs of your team members. Practice compassion and understanding, and make an effort to create a work environment that is fair and respectful.

5. Practice good time management and take care of yourself.

As an executive leader, you likely have a lot on your plate. The only way to manage your well-being is to practice good time management and prioritize tasks to ensure you are using your time effectively. Part of using your time effectively is taking care of yourself. You can’t serve others if you are run down, burnt out and overwhelmed. Adopt my mantra of “self-care is a discipline, not a luxury.” I get weekly massages and work out every day to manage my stress. Make non-negotiable self-care calendar appointments and hold yourself accountable for putting your health and well-being first.

Leadership is never a destination but always a journey. No matter how seasoned you are, there is always room for improvement. By implementing these five practices, you can develop your executive leadership skills and capabilities to become a leader worth following.

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