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HiResBy Amy Franko

We see their pictures in the media, and we hear them make speeches before shareholders and stakeholders. But how well do you know your CEO? Have you ever wondered what’s going on in his or her mind?

With all that they’re responsible for, you’re probably not surprised to learn that a CEO’s mind is a busy place.

About 100 Central Ohio executives were given a sneak peek into the experiences and insights of four of the area’s most admired leaders at a recent panel discussion, hosted by the Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD). I was honored to serve as moderator of the panel, which included John Ammendola, President and CEO, Grange Insurance; Kim Jacobs, Chief of Police, City of Columbus; Elaine Roberts, A.A.E., President & CEO, Columbus Regional Airport Authority; and Teresa A. Sherald, President & CEO, Diversity Search Group.

Throughout our fascinating and entertaining 90-minute discussion, we delved into several topics– from navigating the shift to CEO, to building a team and making tough calls, to transforming organizational culture. As I reflect back on the conversation , I can summarize it into seven key takeaways. Whether you’re already in the C-suite or are striving to get there, these tips can help you become a better leader today.

  • You’ve got to want it. CEOs must have a deep internal desire to be in the lead role, in both good times and tough times. As you consider your executive career path, reflect on your level of true desire to lead and willingness for complete accountability at this level. One CEO expressed it as having a “buck stops here” mentality. Are you willing to take on that responsibility?
  • R-E-S-P-E-C-T. If you haven’t earned respect before you’re the CEO, it’s probably too late. Start now by focusing on being collaborative and understanding the importance of your stakeholders. And as one of the panelists reminded us, “you can be successful as long as you don’t care who gets the credit.”
  • Decisions, decisions. Be strategic in your decision making. Never make a decision unless you can look everyone in the eye and explain your thought process behind it. As Malcolm Gladwell said, “Truly successful decision-making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.” Make sure you make decisions for the right reasons.
  • Mistakes are meant to guide you, not define you. Everyone makes mistakes. Acknowledge and own yours. Fix them effectively. But then move on. CEOs can’t waste time lingering in the past. Another benefit of acknowledging mistakes: when leaders do this, it gives their teams permission to acknowledge their mistakes, too.
  • Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it’s a valuable leadership trait. A sense of continuous curiosity will help propel you and your organization forward. The panelists encouraged us to ask the “why.” Get out of your office, and walk around. Talk to others. You’ll find out answers you didn’t know, and have a better understanding of the operation.
  • Change is ahead. Every leader must be a change agent. As the saying goes, “change is difficult, but not changing is fatal.” It’s a leader’s job to invoke and provoke trends. Create a vision for your organization to survive and thrive over the long term. Then inspire your team to pull in the same direction with the same purpose.
  • Step into some discomfort for the greater good. One final tip is especially for leaders who are women or part of a minority group. We need to seek out leadership roles (like board seats for example) where we may be the only representative of our gender or group, so that others can begin to see this leadership path for themselves. To demonstrate that diversity is valuable, show up at meetings and share your thoughts. Also, be sure to be a matchmaker and connect people who are good matches for board and executive seats.

This list encompasses my favorite insights, but of course there were many others. If you attended, what resonated with you? What would you add to the list?

For related content, view my previous post, 10 strategies from the CEO suite.

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