To Be an Excellent CEO: Be Bold

McKinsey & Co. is promoting a book entitled, CEO Excellence: The Six Mindsets That Distinguish the Best Leaders from the Rest. The promotional headline is How to be an excellent CEO: Be Bold.

Let’s remember the difference between a manager and a leader. A manager keeps things going. A leader takes you someplace new. Successful, impactful leaders are rare. They must be bold. And, they must make the right choices. Simply being bold is not enough.

If you have a vision for a new product, a new business venture, or a new organizational structure, you must believe your vision will improve the organization you lead. You must believe your plan is the right plan. The impactful leader is bold with a conviction in their vision and the ultimate success of their plan.

As Satya Nadella was starting his new job as CEO of Microsoft, the outgoing CEO, Steve Ballmer gave him this advice for success in the job, “Be bold and be right. If you are not bold, you’re not going to do much of anything. If you are not right, you’re not going to be here."

Be bold and be sure you are doing the right thing.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak connected an Intel 8080 chip, a screen, and a keyboard and imagined, for the first time, a personal computer. Their vision – their business plan - was to make circuit boards with the 8080 chip that hobbyists could use to make rudimentary personal computers.

Jobs approached Paul Terrell, owner of the Byte Shop computer store in Mountain View, CA, trying to get their first order. Terrell said he was not interested in the circuit boards but would buy fully assembled computers. Steve Jobs could have said, “We are selling circuit boards. Selling assembled computers might be a good idea but is not what we are doing. That’s a bigger job than we want to take on.”

Jobs and Wozniak had a bold vision. But they also recognized that they needed to change their business plan. Being bold and being right is what made them great leaders and what created Apple Computer.

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
  Apple’s Think Different commercial, 1997.

I meet entrepreneurs with strong convictions about their technology and business concept. Unfortunately, many are not open to discovering the right plan. They have the passion and conviction required for success. But they are not open to adjusting their plan to the realities of the market, competitors, or funders.

The McKinsey piece drew a distinction between being bold and being cautious in the face of uncertainty. Yes, be bold. Ask, “What could we do that will really change things?” But also be open to discovery and to learning when forming your vision and plan. Be sure to include discovery and learning as part of your execution plan.

“That will never work!” is always in the air. Add learning what will work - what the customer will buy - to your bold vision. Discovering what is right and being bold are the essential skills of a successful and impactful leader.
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Bold is as Bold Does 

The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles was founded in a 1960’s department store building. Exotic cars would be the attraction. Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects created a bold exterior façade as an invitation to the excitement inside.

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