Leadership is, by definition, a process of transition. None of us is born to be a leader. Those who are leaders have become leaders through change, and it is a very difficult and unnatural process. A lot of this process involves learning, through repeatedly asking and answering the question, “what does a leader do?”

As a first-time CEO, I ask this question of other CEOs again and again, and write down their answers. I also find food for thought in blogs and books. As you might expect, answers from different CEOs differ a lot, but they have similarities.

Here are compilations of leadership advice from several CEOs.

Marten Mickos

Leadership is:

  1. Learn to lead yourself
  2. Treat others with respect
  3. Believe in the positive energy
  4. Align around a purpose and set concrete goals
  5. Reward and give feedback
  6. Bad news is good news
  7. Run great meetings
  8. Communicate

For more detail, please read Marten’s original article.

Ben Horowitz

Giving feedback turns out to be the unnatural atomic building block atop which the unnatural skill set of management gets built… Here are the keys to being effective:

  • Be authentic.
  • Come from the right place.
  • Don’t get personal.
  • Don’t clown people in front of their peers.
  • Feedback is not one size fits all.
  • Be direct, but not mean.

For details, please read Ben’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things or this blog post.

Andy Grove

Andy Grove was the CEO of Intel and the author of High Output Management. In his view, the only tools a manager can use to influence is training and motivation.

David Eherlich

David is the CEO of Aktana. In David’s view, as a CEO if you’re doing anything other than one of the following four activities, you’re likely getting in the way more than adding value:

  1. Espouse and reinforce the vision. Never miss a chance to repeat the vision and draw a direct line between whatever’s happening in the moment and how it aligns with the vision.
  2. Right people, right jobs. As CEO, you must build the absolute best team.
  3. Ensure adequate resources. You’ve now got the right people in the right jobs knowing what to accomplish (the vision). It’s your job to ensure they’re armed for success. They have to have the resources to do their jobs.
  4. Build the company culture. Cultures should be authentic and should reinforce the behaviors required for success (see Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras). Only the CEO, through her/his actions can reinforce an authentic, powerful culture.

If you’re doing anything other than these things, then by definition you haven’t done these things well. For example, if you’re making a decision about a department or team’s work, then you haven’t hired the right executives or given them an adequate understanding of the vision. If you’re jumping in and helping with their work, then either you don’t have the right people in the right jobs or they don’t have the resources they need.


I haven’t gotten permission from this CEO yet so he will remain anonymous for now. Being a leader, according to this CEO, consists of:

  1. Creating a clear vision.
  2. Assembling a world-class team.
  3. Focusing maniacally on feedback loops.
  4. Acknowledging the phases of growth as you scale and synchronizing the organization with them.

When all of these things fall into place, there’s a sense of ease and lack of friction, like running downhill.

Brad Eure

Brad is my CEO coach. In his words:

There are a few, simple, underlying truths of leadership. But, just like a diet, you must develop the discipline to make sure that you follow them in order to be successful. Here are those simple, yet hard to stick to leadership tenets:

  • First, know thyself. Knowing and being transparent about your own strengths and weaknesses enables you to understand others.
  • If you are doing, you are not leading. Do not be the hub of the wheel.
  • Define your direct reports’ roles and hire the people that are the best suited to those roles.
  • Explain to your direct reports what you want done and how their work contributes to the success of the team and the organization.
  • Give them the tools, training, coaching and resources to do their job and then let them succeed or fail. Do not coddle them.
  • Give them timely, constant, caring and honest feedback about their performance.
  • Praise publicly and criticize privately.
  • Listen.

For more, read his blog post.

Tom Tunguz

Tom’s blog is among those that have been most valuable to me. This blog is not specifically about his view as a leader, as much as a commentary on how many different styles of leadership there are. Recognizing this, it becomes apparent that what’s important is to lead in a way that’s true to who you are:

The cornerstone of great leadership is authenticity. Leaders ask us to believe, to give more, to sacrifice. To trust a leader, his or her leadership must be genuine, a true reflection of their strengths, values and culture. Leaders can engender that trust in many different ways, leading from the front or the back, provided their authenticity is apparent.

Read the whole post.

Pic Credit

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