What Makes a Leader Brilliant?

In my recent book, The CEO Evolution, I interviewed over 75 CEOs and executives, both men and women, to discover how their personal, professional, and spiritual values have shaped their leadership style.  Interestingly, a number of similarities were shared by all.  Most CEOs and executives attribute the same basic elements for creating success as:

  • Determination
  • Persistence
  • Integrity
  • Responsibility
  • A Deep Sense of Spirituality
  • Luck
  • Commitment to Family

Most did not define success in financial terms, even though most of the executives profiled came from poverty or lower middle class and many were the first in their families to go to college.  Almost all have had someone who believed in them, and they make family a top priority.  Most of the inspired CEOs do not plan to retire, but if they do, they will continue to be involved in giving back to the community and making a difference. The majority said that if they died today their lives would be complete.  All participants are concerned about leaving a quality legacy.  Everyone interviewed wanted to be remembered for leaving the world better than they found it.  The most outstanding complaint among these business leaders was their perception that time is the enemy.  Finding balance between the personal and professional arenas is the number one struggle for most executives.

Failure and Family

Typically, the leaders profiled were not afraid to fail; they have often allowed their failures, firings or challenges to propel them forward to success.  Although most participants did ot have catastrophic failure, many said they learned from mistakes along the way.  The consistent regret was not having spent more time with their families. One memorable comment was offered by a male CEO; he wished he had married his wife earlier!  Notably, many male executives credited their wife or partner as a primary factor in their success, whereas very few female executives made mention of her husband or partner as she scaled the corporate ladder and broke more glass ceilings.

The Right Place at the Right Time

All leaders I profiled were self-motivated, self-directed, with a powerful “Just do it” attitude.  Almost all expressed gratitude and were grateful to God for their success.  Most interesting, a majority attributed their success to luck, being unusually blessed, and having great mentors.  Others thank “fate”, and feel they were ‘in the right place at the right time’ rather than attributing success to their own skill or intellect.  This is not to say they did not work hard and were not bright and highly skilled, but in describing their success journey, they all mentioned luck, blessings, or how things ‘fell their way.’

They Were Surprised by Their Success

Most surprising is that many of these top business leaders are surprised by their success; they had never dreamed their lives would be what they are.  Many said their children or marriages are their greatest accomplishment.  All of the leaders claimed to have good support systems, and they report low levels of stress.  They claim that they love or ‘really like’ their lives, and engage in self care, such as exercise, socializing, or a quiet walk in the park.  Many still have friends from their childhood.  Very few of these executives said they celebrate their own successes, but most celebrate the success of and with their team.  Many practice awareness of their own thoughts, and are intentional
about ‘thinking the thoughts’ that elicit the results they desire.

The above are good lessons in leadership as we all continue to strive for brilliance in our lives and our leadership.

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