5 Secrets Successful CEOs Have Taught Me About Productivity

Successful CEO Productivity
CEOs know how to help others. Image: David Spinks

I’ve had the opportunity to observe a few successful CEOs throughout my life. I don’t have myself figured out, but it does seem that I have a near obsessions with observing things. I know a lot of useless trivia although I still seem to do poorly at Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit. But that’s another topic.

Since I was a kid I was always fascinated by people that led successful companies. Most of the people I’ve interacted with and observed have owned small businesses or have led small companies, but even these small companies have been successful in relative terms.

I have family members that own businesses. I worked at a country club where there were multiple business owners. And I’ve worked in a corporate setting with great leaders. And at GBW I interact with many successful business owners.

Each of these people has been different, but they do share many similarities. And I would say that most, not all, but most are pretty productive with their time. I’ve tried to hone in on their productivity secrets for this post. So I’m going back on my observations and memories from the last several years.

Here are the secrets I’ve come away with.

1. Admit Failure And Move On

This is something I’ve noticed over the years and it keeps coming up again and again the more I look. Actually, you don’t often have to look far to see examples of this.

We all fail in life. Some are better at dealing with it than others. I think those that can move past failure are better able to position themselves for success. It’s not that you want to forget failure, but it’s important to move on from.

One of my family members told me once that he’s made many mistakes in life. He said he could dwell on those, but instead he looks for more opportunity. He said to always look for that opportunity and let people on the outside focus on the failures while you keep looking for the next success.

I also saw a story about former Green Bay Packers General Manager Ron Wolf. He was nominated for the Hall Of Fame. The story discussed his decision to hire a coach in 1999. It didn’t work out. Many seemed to know before that it wouldn’t. However, instead of being stubborn, Wolf moved on after one year.

Admit failure and move on.

It’s good to try new things. You do the best with the information you have, but if you see that things won’t work then move on. And if you see potential then stick with the plan you have in place even if people are scrutinizing you.

Why is this productive? You can’t spend countless hours working on something that isn’t going to work. And you an’t spend hours dwelling on past failures. Move on.

2. Schedule Few Meetings, But Be Prepared For All Meetings

Meetings can really suck the time from your day. In my experience, meetings can be the biggest time suck of all especially for busy CEOs. The people I’ve observed the years that are most successful have the ability to not schedule meetings when they don’t absolutely need to.

That’s the first part of this secret: don’t schedule meetings. Most aren’t necessary and they take up too much time.

Second, when you do have meetings, always go in very prepared.

I worked for a company and every time I was in a meeting with the CEO he was always the most prepared person in the room. Well, he may not have been, but he always seemed ready and confident. I imagine that came from experience and preparation. He had always seemed to think about what would be discussed ahead of time.

This meant he could always provide good insight and make sure things were accomplished in the meeting and that attendees have actionable tasks to handle afterward.

It made the meeting productive. It made attendees productive and it made the CEO very productive.

3. Limit Lines Of Communication

I read a story about the new Buffalo Bills owner and how he owned a flip phone. Then I read another story about how Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys also owns a flip phone.

It reminded me of a few times I’ve thought about the CEOs I have observed in the past. Many of them had simple phones. A family member of mine was the CEO of his company and we’d go off to hunting camp for the week and he would leave his phone in the truck all week.

It seems that CEOs purposefully cut off lines of communication. They know that they could answer lots of calls and respond to texts and emails. But they cut these off on purpose. It’s not to be mean or disrespectful. They do it because all that communication isn’t necessary. When they need to make communication they do, but otherwise they cut themselves off.

This makes me think of the time I could give myself if I put the smartphone on silent during work hours or even for an entire week.

4. Establish A Clear Vision For The Future

I won’t say that every CEO I’ve observed has had a clear vision for the future of their company, but it has seemed that nearly all of them has possessed this type of outlook.

It’s almost like the CEOs have been obsessed with what their companies will look like at some point in the far off future. What this outlook seems to provide is a way to see what will be and then work backward to create a step-by-step plan for getting there.

When you have a clear vision for the future of the company you can see what tasks are most important to achieve the end result. You can cut out things that aren’t really necessary and that are taking a lot of time. This frees up time to work on things that are showing promise and that are taking you toward that ultimate goal.

5. Help Others Succeed

This is a big one and it’s a good one to end on. The CEOs that I have observed know that they can’t accomplish everything on their own. They bring on people that can help them achieve business goals or goals for achieving something special or simple, but important (like a quality life).

However, you can’t just hire people. You need to help others to find their own success. Because if you’re helping others you’re giving them a better life and you’ll benefit from their success too. It’s a win-win.

Think about Michael Jordan. His is a classic case. He was the best player in the league from the moment he was drafted, but basketball is a team game. Jordan didn’t win anything for seven years, which is a pretty long time in the pro sports world.

Finally he learned how to help his teammates to become the best they could become. Well, he at least had a hand in doing so. As a result, his teams won 6 of 8 championships.

This is true in businesses too. You can’t look at yourself as superior to people you work with. You have to look at them as great people with great things to contribute. Do everything you can to help them succeed. Give them tips. Give them your time. Listen to them and if they have good ideas allow them to follow through.

I’ve watched nearly every CEO do this and it’s worked to their advantage.

A team can get much more done than a single person and that might be the ultimate productivity secret of successful CEOs.

Final Thought

Sometimes the most successful people in the world are simply able to figure out a few more secrets about life than the rest of us. There are a lot of factors and a lot of hard work that go into running successful businesses, but all people really aren’t that different. There are simple things and choices we make that can define us – for the better or for the less better.

Hopefully these insights can help you if you’re looking to be more productive in your business. They are things I’m thinking about more now that I’ve had the chance to reflect on the successful CEOs I’ve interacted with over the years.

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