Ten Elements of an Effective Executive

Posted On: September 13

This is a memo I wrote to an executive I was coaching that had just been given a significant promotion and would now be running a very high-profile division of a Fortune 500 company. I wanted to give her some good, solid, straightforward ideas about being successful and thriving in her new role. I wrote this memo as if it were to come from her new manager.


Congratulations on the new job, very exciting and very challenging! As you embark on this new chapter in your career, I want to share a few key ideas. These are things that I have heard many senior executives tell their key managers are the most important things they need to do to be successful.


1. Know and run your business incredibly well.

Make your numbers and keep your customers happy. If you cannot successfully run the business you oversee, in the end, nothing else matters. So, priority number one is always running a smooth, flawless operation with a solid strategy and strongly contributing to the corporation’s success.

2. No surprises.

I expect you to handle most of your business issues independently, but if you have a big problem, let me know about it right away. I cannot help you if I do not know what is going on, and trying to hide bad news from me will only hurt all of us much worse in the end. So, I need courageous communication and 100% honesty. I have to trust that you are telling me everything necessary—the good and the bad.

3. Be able to take and give frank feedback.

Do not take it personally if I have to give you some uncomfortable feedback or make a hard decision that negatively impacts your business. Understand it is what I think is best for the entire company. Conversely, I also need to know if you feel I am making a mistake or have overlooked something. You need to be able to deliver tough news to me without fear of retribution. It is a two-way street on this one.

4. Surround yourself with the best people you can possibly find.

Not only is this a solid strategy for business success, but it is also critical to business survival. You need a deep bench of highly talented people to help you succeed. Always being the “Hero” is not a good tactic and will eventually lead to burnout, stress, and failure.

5. High IQ is not enough; you need a high EQ as well.

Once you build a team of superstars, you have to be superb at motivating and supporting them. Leadership through pressure will not succeed in the long run. Yes, you might be able to make your numbers and grind out profit for a while, but in time you will lose the support and trust of your employees. It is clear: People never give their best when they feel like they are getting beaten up. The leader’s job is to build a world-class team and then coach, direct, and motivate them to deliver world-class performance.

6. Be able to make the tough decision in a timely manner.

As your business grows, so will the size of the decisions you need to make. Get a good team behind you that will be brutally honest with you, ask for lots of help, then make the best decision you can with the information at hand. Do not slow down the process. Fast, flat, and flexible is the goal.

7. Think and act strategically.

Even if you are great at it, firefighting problems is not the way to run a business. Put out the fires and keep them out, so you have the time to think long-term. You need to have a good handle on where you and your business should be in three to five years, not simply struggling to try to make budget this quarter.

8. Build a huge network of people inside and outside the company that you can go to for advice and help.

Your job is far too hard for you to do it alone, and although the folks on your team are bright, they do not have all the answers either. So, in addition to a personal commitment to lifelong learning, be sure to foster a network of talented peers, mentors, and key contacts that are invested in your success and eager to offer you help.

9. Manage your time well.

You will always be overwhelmed by the amount of work put in front of you. Time is the most precious commodity you have in your life; learn how to use it to your advantage. As a leader, this means being superb at setting clear priorities, establishing boundaries, and delegating away anything where you are not the only person who can do it. If someone else on your team can do it just as well as you, let it go, give it to them and invest your attention in the areas where you add the most value.

10. Take good care of yourself.

Do not allow yourself to become consumed by the business and let your life become out of balance. The position you’re in now takes a great deal of time, energy, and effort, don’t allow it to control you. Work hard but set an excellent example of striving for life balance for your team. Your life, health, and family are far more important than this business could ever be. Keep that in mind and keep that balance.


I am sure I have missed a few; these are just the things I have repeatedly heard from the top executives who welcome someone new to their team. I welcome your input and ideas.

I hope this helped

– John

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