Leadership Wisdom Based on Experience

Jann Freed Leading 1 Comment

Leaders can learn from the experiences of others.  We can learn from both good and bad experiences.  And we know hindsight is enlightening if we pay attention.  Read this to learn from hundreds of interviews with CEOs.

For 10 years, Adam Bryant wrote a column every Sunday for the New York Times where he interviewed CEOs and/or senior leaders.  Now David Gelles writes a similar column, but it does not seem to be weekly.  We know hindsight is enlightening and wisdom comes from transforming the lessons learned from life experience.   As I plan my graduate leadership course for this fall, I require students to read these interviews.  I always learn something from each one.

After a decade of interviewing these leaders, Bryant summarized what he learned in this column.

Bryant identified three strong themes among the interviews:

  1.  Curiosity. “They tend to question everything. They want to know how things work, and wonder how they can be made to work better. They’re curious about people and their back stories.”
  2. Challenge.  “Discomfort is their comfort zone.”
  3. Focus.  They build a track record of success by focusing on the job they have–not the job they want.

I encourage you to read the whole article because Bryant weaves within his summary themes some powerful quotes from the interviewees.  But I particularly liked this segment:

“Better to understand leadership as a series of paradoxes … Leaders, for example, need humility to know what they don’t know, but have the confidence to make a decision amid the ambiguity. A bit of chaos can help foster creativity and innovation, but too much can feel like anarchy. You need to be empathetic and care about people, but also be willing to let them go if they’re dragging down the team. You have to create a sense of urgency, but also have the patience to bring everybody on the team along.”

Bryant also concluded that if he was asked to rank the most important qualities of effective leadership, he would put trustworthiness at the top.

How curious are you?

How comfortable are you outside of your comfort zone?

How focused are you on doing as well as you can in your current position? 

How trustworthy are you?