5 CEOs' best leadership tips

John M McKee, Business Success and Leadership Coach, shares 5 great leadership tips he's seen deliver solid results in various situations and industries.

Over the last 30 years I've had the great fortune of working with some truly great CEOs. Some of them led brand names like AT&T, Cablevision, General Motors, DIRECTV, and Hudson's Bay Company. Others oversaw companies that were unknown to the average person.

Regardless of what industry or the size of their organization, these individuals were unusually impressive for their ability to see clearly when others around them were unfocused. It's clear that great leaders can provide the others with strong tips for improving their leadership effectiveness.

Nearly any manager can model the success of others to become "more great." I have gathered a kind of "best hits" of tips and ideas from many great leaders to explore this concept in detail in my third book on this subject. That book won't be published until next year. Until then, here are tips from five CEOs:

1. Focus on the real world - Many leaders are far too convinced that they know what's right. In all situations and every time. They ignore reports and analyses, dismissing them as missing the mark in this particular situation. In many cases, these people have done well trusting their instincts and, while I advocate that as a management tool as well, nothing can offset the value of solid data and hard research. 2. Don't get emotional - Bosses who shout, cry, whine, or are too focused on feelings will often turn off people who are well situated to help them succeed. No one wants to spend time with a supervisor who can't be level-headed in difficult times. I saw this firsthand when dealing with the head of one of the largest retail chains. His behavior increased executive resignations whenever things were out of kilter. I'm not advocating a loss of humanity here, just get some balance. Show the team that you can take the bad news as well as the good. Let them see that you are an even keeled person when others become too focused on themselves. 3. Great leaders exhibit great calm - It's reassuring when, in the face of crises, the head of an organization can show everyone else that they know the world is not about to end. This is not the same as being unable to face the truth or acting like a know-it-all. Truly powerful people have an air about them and I've learned that this can be developed with practice. I worked with a company head who was almost Zen-like in her ability to exhibit calmness during a very trying period - it had a great impact on her troops. Try it and see how your ability to make tough decisions in a timely way increases. 4. There is always more time than it seems - While it's a maxim of management that amateurs can delay making the hard decisions; it's also clear that many mistakes are made by those bosses who think that decisions need to be made quickly every time. I've worked with companies in such tight financial straights they had to stretch out their payables each month just to make payroll; but even during one those traumatic times the best CEO was thoughtfully making decisions based on the premise that, "this too will pass." 5. Even a weak manager can look good with a great team - I learned this from a man who, in his 80's, was still making big bets with his holdings. A guy recognized by everyone as being a big thinker and always ahead of the curve, he has amassed a portfolio of companies that have made him a billionaire. When asked how he keeps coming up with great ideas, his answer was simple, "I surround myself with people who know more than me." I'll build on his statement by saying that he gave those people full credit for their ideas and paid them well. He had no ego issues and that went a long way to build loyalty.


Leadership Coach


John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

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