Leadership Secrets of the World’s Most Successful CEOs | Notes & Review

Posted on March 4, 2012


Eric Yaverbaum. Leadership Secrets of the World’s Most Successful CEOs: 100 Top Executives Reveal the Management Strategies that Made Their Companies Great. Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2004. (275 pages)

1. Gene A. Abbott: A good leader makes sure he is surrounded by the right people.

Only through one’s willingness and dedication to give one’s self, and strive solely to be the best, not the biggest, can one become a better leader.

2. Daniel P. Amos: Treat your employees well.

Finally, a leader has to ask a lot of questions of employees: What motivates them? Which of their needs are being met? Which are not? How can you help them? What impact will helping them have on your business? Listening to and acting on the needs of employees helps our business in the short term and over the long term.

3. William Bonner: Focus on the work itself.

I practice a technique that might be called dynamic indifference. I try not to lead, probably because I am no good at it. Instead, I merely focus on the work itself.

4. Niranjan Ajwani: For me a great leader is an enabler and a facilitator.

My style of leadership is humane. I try to keep my leadership technique true to nature. If anything is not in harmony with nature and natural processes, it is not sustainable. I use this principle in order to sustain happiness for myself and my teammates using our own natural strengths and rhythms to get the best out of our lives and also to sustain it.

Leadership involves a lifelong commitment to self-mastery, to holistic living, and to a life of balance. A leader should not only harmonize his different needs, but also be an enabling and empowering factor in harmonizing the different needs of his teammates so that they enjoy work, play, love, relationships, and spiritual growth so very essential for a sustained joy.

5. David T. McLaughlin: Focus on the two or three issues that will effect the future of the enterprise.

The key to becoming a more effective leader is the willingness to embrace change and to identify the opportunities that lie within that change to further the well being of the enterprise and the stakeholders of that entity.

6. A.J. Wasserstein: Never let any relationship, internal or external, go stale or unmanaged.

1. Fully acknowledge any wrongdoing on your part.
2. Tell the other party exactly how you will set things right.
3. Fix the problem.
4. Follow up with the other party to confirm that the problem was fixed to their satisfaction.

7. Chip Perry: Challenge the status quo.

8. Roy Vallee: Work hard to ensure your employees are successful in their careers and they, in turn, will work hard to ensure your company’s success.

9. Daniel Biederman: Reexamine absolutely every piece of conventional wisdom that comes across your path.

I don’t believe anything until I’ve observed it to be true from my own experience. Almost everything I have achieved was written off as unconventional, unpopular, or unlikely by someone in power, usually government. I carefully train everyone who works for me to follow me in this tendency to look skeptically at every word that is confidently pronounced by questionable authorities.

10. William H. Goodwin: Make good, simple, honest, and ethical decisions.

11. James M. Anderson: Be nimble in pursuing opportunity.

See opportunity, even int he face of challenges, and adjust strategy to reach goals. Be flexible, adaptive, and responsive.

12. Matt Rubel: Ask for their best thinking and then really listen.

It shows you respect and empower those who work for you. You will come up with better answers. And those who work with you will take more pride in their own thinking and work.

13. Joseph Deitch: The primary role of the leader is to do just that — to lead.

This requires articulating a clear and powerful vision that resonates with the hearts and minds of all the people associated with the venture. More specifically, the study of behavior psychology teaches us that the most powerful motivators share certain characteristics. They are (1) positive, (2) reliable, and (3) immediate. Thus while a negative motivator such as fear may promote some baseline behaviors, it certainly won’t motivate people to go above and beyond for an exteded time.

The leader chooses the course, drives the bus, and keeps his or her eyes, ears, and heart open. For the conscious leader, every act is an opportunity to learn — and improve. In doing so, the journey continues and the experience becomes richer for all concerned.

14. Sanjay Kumar: A leader must be able to make change happen.

…by guiding an organization through the process and driving transformation throughout a company’s culture. To do that quickly and effectively, a leader must have both the ability to build consensus and the willingness to decide actions when necessary.

But when it comes time to make a decision, leaders must step up and make a judgment given the best input they have. And then it’s time to move on to the next item on the agenda.

15. Archie W. Dunham: Focus. You cannot go everywhere and do everything if you expect to perform well.

Prior planning prevents poor performance. Successful leaders concentrate on their most important priorities.

16. William G. Crutchfield, Jr.: The fundamental role of a successful leader is to achieve alignment.

The most powerful leadership technique that I know is identifying, inculcating, and managing an organizational culture. Leaders must possess the right set of core values and must be able to align everyone in their organization around those values.

17. S. Michael Joseph: Orient your company to a higher purpose.

The Value Statement reads:

To Honor God in All That We Do…

  • By respecting others
  • By doing good work
  • By helping others
  • By forgiving others
  • By giving thanks
  • By celebrating our lives

I believe that when we respect and help one another, we are able to recognize the talent throughout the organization. When we practice forgiveness and give thanks to one another, we open and improve communication. When we deliver innovative and high-quality products, we do good works. When our business behavior is driven by these values, everyone benefits, and we have many reasons to celebrate our lives.

To be a better leader, one must be the kind of person others can trust. That means, consistency, humility, integrity. It means unfailing honesty with people. Treat them as what they are — creations of God.

18. Terdema Ussery: Have a vision and translate that vision to everybody in the organization with passion and conviction.

19. Salvador Diaz-Verson Jr.: Conduct your business with honorable intentions.

When you conduct business with honorable intentions and you respond to your peers, employees, and customers with an attitude of honesty and fairness, they generally respond in kind.

20. Mark Dimassimo: Ask questions.

Through questions you become sophisticated, you see distinctions others don’t, and you identify danger where others miss it and opportunity as well. You solve problems others fail to see.

21. Hurley Calister: Leadership is the art of human relations.

To me, there is no leadership secret, nor does effective leadership conform to ‘technique.’ To the extent leadership secrets exist at all, they are available in the most widely published but least read of all books: The Holy Bible. What does the Bible have to do with business leadership? Leadership is the art of human relations. The fundamentals of the art, the dynamics of relationships, are right there in the good book. …The Bible is all about being grounded in solid values and a long-term mission that matters. So is leadership, whose true test is consistent long-term accomplishment. While communication is the highest skill of a leader, even effective communication that is short term or manipulative is the mere personality projection of a nonleader.

22. David A. Brandon: Listen to the people who are closest to the customers and the marketplace. They will give you your best advice and input.

My experience tells me that it is important to be a coach and a teacher. Lead by example. Articulate a vision. Find out how people want to be treated and treat them that way. Build a great team. Surround yourself with people smarter than you are. Study effective leaders. Read what they write. Listen to them speak. Observe what effective leaders do right and emulate them. Observe what lousy leaders do wrong and void their mistakes. Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t always have all the answers. Just because you are made the leader of an organization doesn’t mean you suddenly possess all knowledge and experience on every facet of the enterprise. …Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You will need a lot of it if you plan to be a successful leader. If you want to know whether someone is a good leader, ask the people who work for them. They will tell you what is real.

23. Michael Masterson: Be an impatient listener!

  1. If someone wants to vent, let him. But don’t let him rant on. Give him about two minutes to make his case and then ask him, politely, to summarize his thoughts and feelings in a sentence or two.
  2. Feel free to interrupt windbags and encourage them to state their point succinctly.
  3. Listen to the literal meaning of what is being said, but pay attention also to the emotional message. In responding, address those emotional messages as well as the literal ones.
  4. Break down every important conversation into component parts. Most discussions get derailed when the conversation flows from one subject to another and back again. Assign a ‘title’ to each major point — say, for example, ‘John, we are talking about your salary now, is that right?’ and then finish that conversation before you go on to the next.
  5. Do not allow any individual point of discussion to take more than five or ten minutes to complete. Any time in excess of that is usually about the emotional issue, not the subject at hand. Treat the other person’s time with respect and expect the same from him.
  6. A few minutes before the end of the time you have allocated for the conversation, tell your interlocutor that you must stop talking and summarize the main points, identify what action needs to be taken, and, if necessary, schedule an additional conversation.

24. Stevan Roberts: Take somebody who doesn’t know how to do something, show them how to do it, and give them credit for it.

25. Ronald C. Kesselman: Moderate your reactions to both good and bad news.

Have exactly the same temperament in both situations, and ask the same questions: What is the impact (e.g., financial, customers)? How can you moderate the downside or capitalize on the upside?

26. Bruce T. Coleman: Lead by example.

27. J. Darius Bikoff: It’s all about being passionate and intense about what you do — and having fun at the same time.

28. William P. Lauder: Clearly state the mission and objective of the company in a manner that gets everybody to understand and pull in that direction.

Everybody sets the mission. It is not a directive from on high. It comes from the collective bottom up. When the mission is set in this fashion, everyone buys into it because they believe it is achievable.

Your brand mission and statement cannot be overcommunicated. Repetition and clarity are essential.

29. Massimo Ferragamo: Select the best people for every key position, and give them the authority necessary to do their jobs.

30. Dorothy Cann Hamilton: Truly believe in the people you work with.

31. Paul G. Garrity Sr.: Practice.

I’ve often heard a real leader is a man who can build a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him. However, a true leader builds respect form his actions. He must be both confident as well as modest.

Perhaps the best way for a person to learn how to become a leader is to implement it; it should be practiced the same way a great athlete achieves his goal.

32. Michael Fleisher: Open, informal communication fosters teamwork and success.

33. John Goodman: Intuition, intelligence, and passion.

Intuition is the inner voice. It’s a sense of knowing opportunity, without immediate proof of how you know. It’s a leap from problem to solution, which transcends usual thought processes. Everyone is born with intuition; it’s God talking to us between our thoughts.

Intelligence is the unique ability and creativity of yourself and the people with whom you work, and how you work together. Intelligence is the collective wisdom that enables us to effectively act on opportunity.

Passion is truly caring about what you do, and doing it. Passion is what transitions opportunity to success.

34. Ed Nusbaum: Identify what makes your organization unique.

…formulate this difference into a vision, build a strategy around the vision, execute on the strategy, and constantly communicate the vision and strategy to everyone within the organization.

35. Ray Barton: Create a vision everyone in the organization understands, supports, and works to achieve.

A leader must have a strong belief in themselves and the willingness to take huge personal risks by throwing a stake in the ground, stating their vision, and continuing to communicate the vision even when it seems impossible and others doubt. The communication must be consistent and constant, and the leader’s actions must support the vision.

36. Tranum Fitzpatrick: Lead from the front.

To me this means that — always keeping in mind that you are the leader of a team and not an actor — you must:

  • Determine the business principles which will define your company.
  • Closely communicate those principles to your people, then keep finding new ways of continually communicating those same principles.
  • Then you yourself always abide by these principles.

37. Irwin Simon: Communicate.

Don’t be afraid to be open, honest, and frank. If there is a problem, say what you think about it. It is not important that you be liked, although that’s nice; it is important that the people in your organization respect you.

38. Sy Sperling: Realize your own shortcomings.

39. Dr. thomas F. Frist, Jr.: Surround yourself with good people who balance out your weaknesses with their strengths.

40. Carleton S. Fiorina: We have a responsibility to redefine the role of the corporation on the world stage.

41. Permille Lopez: The greatest privilege of leadership is to guide people toward the path to achieve great things.

42. William T. Monahan: Lead by example.

43. Dr. Ulrich Schumacher: Dare to be different.

I can only speak from my own experience, but I think the most important way to become a better leader is to have unshakable faith in your vision of the future.

44. Andre L. Lynch: If you don’t leave room for people to risk and fail, they won’t achieve what you want them to achieve.

No matter how upset a leader may be with anyone, that person should never leave the presence of that leader without their dignity intact. This requires that leaders always consider the impact of their tongues on the lives of others.

Individuals learn through constructive criticism, a sense that the leader has a long-term interest in the success of their lives, and, even if disciplined or terminated, that they are not devalued in the eyes of others.

45. David A. Steinberg: Listen to people and make them feel like part of a team.

46. Richard A. Goldstein: Give people the ability and authority to get things done, and hold them accountable for the results.

If the person you want to empower refuses to ‘take the reins,’ then you have the wrong person in the position. Replace him or her.

Unless you believe the consequences will be too serious to bear, you should by and large accept the decisions your people take, even if they are not the ones you would have taken yourself. Impress upon your entire organization that, above all else, when faced with a decision — just do the right thing.

47. Charles Feghali: Push to get things done.

48. Howard Conant: Maintain a high level of integrity.

49. Alexandra Lebenthal: Be a hands-on executive.

I ultimately believe that a company and its leader have a greater loyalty to its employees than the employees have toward them. Being involved as a result of employee regard means active participation in a number of small issues.

50. Roger S. Berkowitz: Listen to those around you and implement the best of what’s suggested.

…no leader has a monopoly on good ideas.

51. Charles Ayres: Mutual understanding and agreement of both boundaries and consequences lead to truly superior execution of any vision or strategy.

People want to be led by someone strong; who they believe will take them to the place they want to go. Understand this early and you will immediately be better at it.

52. Leo A. Daly III: Positive interdependence.

…everyone involved in a project or in achieving a goal, is vested in its successful outcome.

Surround yourself with the best people, listen to their advice, and empower them to succeed. Establish the person’s challenge and then provide him or her with manpower and technical resources needed to succeed (within reasonable budgetary guidelines.) And, probably more importantly, give that person your trust and reinforce that trust publicly in front of his or her peers and other employees.

53. Guerrino De Luca: A sense of humility is the antidote for complacency.

…I know that I don’t have all the answers. I will always be an apprentice, always trying to learn and understand more, surrounding myself with the brightest people I can find, and always staying grounded.

Successful leaders have the innate ability to perceive their environment and the needs of all of those entrenched alongside of them. That’s because they are always listening, and always learning. Just like an apprentice.

54. C. James Jensen: People make decisions based on feelings, not facts.

55. David B. Snow: Identify the noble cause that will drive the business as well as the hearts and minds of the company’s employees.

By definition, the noble cause is a view from inside the company looking out — not about a self-interest, but rather revolving around a selfless intent to help others. Those pursuing a noble cause inherently believe that if they always do what’s right for others, their reward will follow.

Never forget that you get the best out of people by igniting their passion. Those people are motivated by a burning internal desire to achieve greatness, not because they’re getting paid a few extra bucks. They won’t check their hearts and heads at the door. And they won’t abandon you in times of adversity.

56. John E. Rau: Communicate the high expectation that everyone should think strategically about what is best for the company.

I like to ask people to answer questions as if they were sitting in the CEO’s chair. This seems to have several useful results. …It communicates the high expectation that everyone should think strategically and about what is best for the company. And people usually live up to whatever expectations you have of them.

It gets people thinking outside their own area or function, and this often generates empathy for their colleagues in sister divisions or functions when you are asked to look at these relationships ‘from above.’

57. Atwood Collins, III: Focus fueled by a passion, and commitment to consistently apply it.

  • Focus on what you want to achieve, and how you are going to do it.
  • Develop simple metrics to reassure your success in achieving those goals you have established. I stress simple metrics, because a lot of businesses try to measure everything, which in reality is measuring nothing.
  • Be consistent in how you execute the objectives.
  • Relentlessly review your performance and adjust or retool where necessary.

As a leader you can have all the vision you like, but really it is not your vision that is important, it is the one that your people can see. People see a vision of the future when they can clearly connect their objectives and their goals to the value that you are trying to create.

58. Judith Harrison Bode: Build a team that is able to meet new challenges.

It is your responsibility as a leader to choose the right people. Mold them into an effective unit and sufficiently train them to use their individual strengths in the service of the team, and they can adapt to the environment — success will follow success.

59. Gary E. Costely: Values are the foundation of all great leaders.

People will not follow someone who they don’t view as credible and who hasn’t earned their respect.

Values-based leadership is the right answer for corporate leaders today.

60. Marc Maurer: Articulate and demonstrate an empowering philosophy.

61. Sy Sternberg: Don’t outsource your strategic thinking.

Learn to trust your judgment. learn to stand on your own two feet.

62. Robert P. Baird: Strategic probing.

  1. Preparation. Formulating hypotheses and communicating expectations.
  2. Creating a conducive climate for interaction. Warm, friendly, humor and a little flattery helps relax people, so use it. Read your audience; respond to their body language.
  3. Posing the leading, open-ended questions. Start easy, with positives. Later, begin heavier probing and challenging assumptions.
  4. Deepening the dialogue.
  5. Peeling the onion. Asking “why” (and “why not”).
  6. Bringing the meeting to positive closure.

The result should be a deeper understanding of the persons rather than the personas; a revealing X ray of the problems, challenges, and opportunities; a robust set of alternative solutions, if appropriate; and a clear course of action that energizes the team.

63. Paul I. Karofsky: Be adaptable.

No one can take the ultimate weight of decision making off your shoulders. But the more you know about how things really are, the lighter your burden will be.

64. Kent Kresa: Work for those who work for you.

65. Michael D. Drexler: Always encourage your staff to stretch.

66. Alberto Aleman: Change constantly.

67. Patty Dedominic: Make new contacts and continue to cultivate the old.

68. Paul Labrie: You can never own a customer.

69. Peter A. Benoliel: Integrity, honesty in dealing with people, and openness to relationships and ideas have served me well.

70. Len Roberts: Passion, vision, and trust.

I think leadership should be synonymous with the word serve. Serving someone in the best manner possible, and always having a mindset built around the concept of service is, to me, what the purpose of leadership is ultimately all about.

71. Charles Goldstuck: Make decisions deciseively.

72. Bruce Bent II: Find your own way of doing things.

The most powerful thing you can do is be real. People will respect it and respond to it.

…don’t imitate others, and find what works for you. Making things happen and leading others is totally personal.

73. Audrey Oswell: Be visible.

74. Lloyd G. “Buzz” Waterhouse: Simplify until it fits on one page.

I believe great leaders are great simplifiers. After all, leaders lead people, not organizations or companies. And leading people is about gaining understanding, alignment, and support. One of the best ways to do that is to simplify.

  1. Does everyone understand the direction you’re headed and how you expect to get there?
  2. Are your people aligned around that direction?
  3. How can you gain their support for the actions needed to move in that direction?

75. Brent B. Johnson: Maximize the strengths and moderate the weaknesses of your employees.

76. Michael W. Wickham: Hire and care for good quality people within the organization.

Once you have them hired and cared for, you must help them stay engaged in pursuing corporate success. To do this, you must have a clear vision of what success means yourself.

77. Harold M. “Max” Messmer: Quickly turn creative ideas into successful business practices.

78. Daniel Rose: Convey a compelling vision of what you believe your group can accomplish, and contagious enthusiasm can encourage them to achieve more than thought possible.

79. Thomas C. Sullivan: Hire the best people you can find. Create an atmosphere that will keep them. Then let them do their jobs.

80. James W. Keys: Teach!

I discovered long ago that many people are good at repeating the basics of a strategic plan, but their understanding may be shallow. If they don’t have a thorough understanding of the strategy, execution will suffer.

When called upon to teach, senior managers must do several things. First, they must prepare their curriculum. Second, they must clarify any understanding with me before they teach. Third, and most important, the senior manager will be challenged by the audience to clarify areas of uncertainty. The ability to respond to such questions will inevitably build the teacher’s depth of understanding.

81. Walter M. Higgins: Treat every individual, regardless of who they are, with respect.

82. Adrien Arpel: If you are excited about each new technique, innovation, or product you create, your passion is communicated to your staff.

83. Stephanie Sonnabend: Lead people the way they want to be led.

  • Practice high standards of integrity and ethics.
  • Value employees as individuals.
  • Exceed customers’ expectations.
  • Service with passion.

84. Jim Parker: Be a servant leader.

I see my role as a servant leader as one that encourages employees to always stretch their abilities to the next level so that they will grow in their positions.

85. Ron Sargent: Get your hands dirty.

Before you can be a great leader, you need to understand the inner-workings of the business and where and how the greatest impact can be made.

86. Barry Sternlicht: Innovate or die!

87. Marcy Syms: Be as close to impartial as you can in making decisions.

88. Higinio Sanchez: Start the day with a smile.

89. Melvin J. Gordon: Know where you want the company to go and spell out a route to get there.

90. Bart C. Chuldman: Call an “audible.”

91. Steve Belkin: Value, empower, and appreciate your staff.

92. Elizabeth Elting: Have a service orientation.

93. Donald L. Evans: Put your trust in other people and they will trust you.

94. Henrietta Holsman Fore: One idea that changes the world.

Look for ideas in which change is positive, creative, and sustainable.

95. Steve Wadsworth: I believe there is inherent leadership in the strength of a well-organized, focused team.

96. Michael G. Medzigian: Lead by example.

I don’t believe that it is practical for a leader to set higher goals for others than he demands of himself. Excellence begets excellence!

97. Peter H. Soderberg: I believe in a highly interactive, personal approach with employees and customers.

98. Tyler Young: Constantly initiate change.

Old companies need to reinvent themselves without losing their traditional values.

99. Anne M. Mulcahy: Get the cow out of the ditch.

…one of the most critical leadership skills is the ability to lead an organization out of a crisis and turn negatives into positives quickly.

You’ve got to do three things. First, get the cow out of the ditch. Second, find out how the cow got in the ditch. Third, make sure you do whatever it takes so the cow doesn’t get in the ditch again.

Poor leadership can do serious damage virtually overnight. Good leadership — leadership that is consistent, honest, and forceful — can move mountains.

100. Peter A.J. Gardiner: Perform or Go.

POGO, or ‘Perform Or GO” gives op executives a clear direction, goals, and incentives.


  1. have a clear vision, a specific direction, and a goal for your organization.
  2. Focus on the two or three things most important to your vision and goals. Don’t spread your attention too thin.
  3. Communicate your vision, strategy, goals, and mission to everyone involved — senior management, employees, suppliers, vendors, customers, shareholders, and other stakeholders.
  4. Listen to what others tell you. Be willing to accept and act upon criticism and suggestions.
  5. Surround yourself with the right people, a strong team.
  6. Treat your employees exceedingly well. Help them become successful in their careers and their lives.
  7. Apply the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
  8. Be in a business you love and are passionate about.
  9. Constantly innovate to gain and sustain competitive advantage and serve your customers better.
  10. Plan everything. Leave nothing to chance.
  11. Be a leader and actually lead. Take responsibility. Make tough decisions.
  12. Lead by example. Don’t expect your people to do what you don’t or don’t do yourself.
  13. Listen to the people who are closest to the customers and the marketplace. They will give you your best advice and input.
  14. Set performance goals and establish metrics by which you can measure your performance and results.
  15. Be service-oriented. How can you make the lives of your employees and customers better, easier, and more rewarding?