What CEOs Really Say About Leadership in Private

What CEOs Say About Leadership in PrivateI’ve mentioned previously that in my role as Chief Relationship Officer for CEO Connection I have the opportunity to participate in a series of meetings five times a year at various locales around the country with our members, mid-market CEOs representing companies with an average of $1.6 billion in sales.

These meetings are private so the CEOs may feel comfortable being fully open and honest about their current challenges and perspectives on a variety of issues.

At our most recent event we spent several thoughtful hours discussing leadership, a topic which is obviously near and dear to my heart, as well as to theirs. Nothing that was said disappointed me. Instead, I was truly inspired by what I heard from these leaders of companies you are exceptionally familiar with.

I wanted to share with you what I felt were the “Top 10″ statements:

1. Our executive team fired our second best customer because of their abusive behavior. We lost our bonuses as a result. It was the right thing to do.

2. Unleash the profitability of your people by empowering them to do their jobs.

3. Leadership is about inspiring and enabling.

4. Closing your door sends a message to an organization like nothing else. I won’t do it. If people are worried about privacy I tell them to use their “indoor voices.” (Everyone smiled at that!)

5. Bring in people who make you uncomfortable with their diversity of ideas and push you in new ways.

6. The more freedom you give, the more accountability you get.

7. Think of your relationship with your Board as an ongoing dialogue.

8. When people like their boss they are significantly more successful. Usually, when people leave it’s because they are leaving their boss.

9. Hire talent and potential.

10. Engagement and passion for the enterprise sets people apart.

 Do any of these statements inspire you the way they encouraged me? What resonated most? Please share in the comments; I’d love to hear your opinions!


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Photo is Private via lukemedway_uk.



  1. Lisa,

    Great post as always. What strikes me the most is that there appears to be a reclaiming of doing business the right way, no matter what. The comment about firing the customer and losing bonuses reinforces this approach. I am hopeful that the backlash against the greed and focus on short-term results is a strong one. Sounds like you’ve got a great group.

    And, of course, I LOVE the comment about unleashing the profitability of your people!


    • Thank you, Brian and yes, we have a great group. And I can see why you love that profitability comment! :) Most importantly, I hope you are right about a reclaiming of doing business the right way. Obviously, our members are a very small % of CEOs out there, but I am certainly encouraged by those I have the privilege of working with. All the best and looking forward to seeing you next week.

  2. Lisa – I am new to your site and really love the inforfation being shared.. Give freedom, get more accountability rang very true as did the others. Very optimistic. Thank you.

  3. Lisa – #5 is my favorite! “Bring in people who make you uncomfortable with their diversity of ideas and push you in new ways.” Wise & confident leaders know that is a critical key to success!

    • Thanks for letting me know what resonated most with you! I agree, it is critical and does take confidence, especially when someone’s ideas make you uncomfortable. Thanks, Chery!

  4. I found statement #1 the best of your top 10. Why? Because this is living proof of “walking the talk”. The impact of that action can last for years in an organization because it puts employees first and makes a powerful statement about the company’s leadership. The other statements, while admirable, can be lip service unless practiced. I’ve seen dozens of Mission Statements out there about empowerment and leadership but not many signs of great execution.
    John Richard Bell´s last blog post ..Gretzky, Gates, Zuckerberg: Can they see the Unseen?

    • John, I think you’ve hit on something incredibly powerful. This story was undoubtedly discussed throughout the organization by employees and genuinely enables the entire organization to understand the real nature of the values at this company. As you said, the impact of this can last for years. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your insights on this – I sincerely appreciate it!

  5. Henry Motyka says:

    4.6, and 9 really reasonate with me.

    As a leader, you absollutely can’t close your door. So uch is said about a leader not being friends with the staff. I don’t buy it at all. I was both to my staff and it worked out wonderfully. It’s always the same thing. You need the right people to make it work.

    Giving freedom is the same way. You need the right people to make it work, but when you let them work to their own standards and abilities without you interfering, wonderful things happen, and they usually all are within the parameters of what needs to happen.

    As a job hunter, I am stunned by employers demanding certain specific skills instead of looking at the whole person. I think this is short sighted. I never used to do it that way. You want people you can develop. In the long run they serve you better.

    • Henry,

      In regard to the open door policy, the CEO was not getting at a need to be friends with the staff. Rather, he was referring to the idea that when doors are closed it gives the impression that there is some information that only a few can have. This does not nurture a sense of trust in the organization, rather, it can lead to fear. I just wanted to clarify that piece… Thanks for letting me know that a few of these really struck you – I appreciate that! All the best to you, Henry!

  6. Wow, this is certainly awesome news. I’m happy to hear that CEOs are thinking along these lines. I love the idea of hiring for talent AND potential and then getting out of your people’s way (by empowering them to take ownership and do their jobs). And I agree wholeheartedly that being a leader is primarily about inspiring and enabling others. Thanks for a great post!
    Danilo Vargas´s last blog post ..How To Get a Mentor

    • I appreciate that, Danilo, thank you! It’s wonderful to know that these quotes are as encouraging to others as they are to me. :) All the best for a wonderful holiday season!

  7. The thing that strikes me most about the list is that it all about taking care of and enabling your people so they lead your organization to greatness. Set the vision, inspire, help develop people, remove obstacles and let your people do great things. Not what we hear in the news (only the bad apples). Thanks.
    Doug Wagner´s last blog post ..Proof that Values, Purpose and Culture Are Important

    • Doug, Great point about how we’re so aware of the “bad apples” because that’s what we see on the news. Honored to be able to share a glimpse of some of the “good guys!”

  8. All of the points were fantastic but I especially loved #2. Profit perception is often misinterpreted based on PNL reports and lead conversion etc. The focus should always be on our people!
    Jonathan Saar´s last blog post ..Mystery Shopping –Step Beyond the Guest Card

  9. The one about bringing in people who’s ideas make you feel uncomfortable was particularly interesting. I’m a big believer in the importance of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone, and surrounding yourself with people who constantly drive you to do so is extremely important. Great message!

    • So glad to know it resonated with you, Kyle! And I agree, it’s very interesting and takes steps (like surrounding yourself with people who push you outside your comfort zone) to ensure you’re always moving forward and open to new ways of thinking. Thanks for sharing your insights!

  10. It is refreshing to hear that there are still leaders who know how to lead and not just manage. I hope these leaders can inspire others back to leadership as it should be. It has provided hope.

    • Thrilled to hear that it provided hope, Joseph! Thank you for letting me know and for taking the time to read and comment – it means a lot to me. All the best to you at the holiday season.

  11. Hi Lisa, they all had meaning for me and I’d say two tied for first place:

    2. Unleash the profitability of your people by empowering them to do their jobs.

    3. Leadership is about inspiring and enabling.

    When I owned and operated my medical eye surgery practice before selling it, these two were obvious keys to my success in running a profitable business and creating a harmonious, efficient and effective team. Also loyalty. These are two keys to increasing employee ownership and alignment.
    Valencia Ray MD´s last blog post ..The Illumined Path: 4 C.O.R.E. Keys to Engaging Mind and Heart for Business Success

    • Valencia, I really appreciate knowing that these were at the core of your success – I think that is powerful experience-based feedback for the readers. Thank you so much and hope you’re having a lovely holiday season!

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