Finance & Operations

Six Tips CEOs Should Live By

April 4, 2011

This might date me, but in my 30-year career I’ve witnessed almost every evolution that the software industry has experienced.

Hangar 6

I’ve seen incredible innovation, industry firsts, and, throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to work with companies that have been at the forefront of driving that evolution.

While a lot has changed over those 30 years, one thing has remained constant: the way in which executives should lead, manage, nurture, and grow their companies. There are certain rules that stand the test of time, regardless of how market conditions, product categories, and industry economics have changed.

Here’s a perfect example. Recently, I came across an article in USA Today’s Money section that included an interview with John Lechleiter, the CEO of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. The portion of the article that grabbed my attention was Lechleiter’s tips that CEOs should live by.

They are the same rules I followed when I managed my first team of 30 people in 1986 at ADR and later when I managed over 2,000 people running North American Sales for Oracle corporation form 1998 through 2003. They’ve clearly stood the test of time.

So, without further ado, here are Lechleiter’s tips, along with a few of my own thoughts:

Listen before you speak.

At the expansion stage in particular, soliciting ideas and feedback from employees is crucial. A company’s staff can be the pulse of the business and possess a great understanding of what is — or isn’t — working. Bloomberg Businessweek writer Carmine Gallo expanded on this point, arguing that the best leaders are excellent listeners.

Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.

That’s tried and true advice that can be applied to almost every facet of our lives, but it’s particularly important as a CEO. You’re the leader of the company and it’s crucial that your employees respect and trust you. If you’re hypocritical or unfair, then employee engagement — and the company’s performance — will ultimately suffer.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

It’s important to remember that there are two sides to every story. Great CEOs understand their business and their employees. As Steve Tobak writes for BNET, the CBS television show “Undercover Boss” is a great reminder that CEOs can learn a lot by putting themselves in their employees’ shoes.

Decide on the few things that really matter and do them really well.

One of small software companies’ common maladies is a willingness to do Anything For A Buck (AFAB). Sure, it’s often necessary when capital and resources are scarce. But that lack of focus usually leads to companies trying to be all things to all people, squandering human and capital resources. As companies expand and grow, it’s essential that CEOs focus on the one to three things that truly matter. Don’t worry about the rest.

Business is hectic, but find time to sit and think without distractions.

Especially in the digital age, when CEOs are constantly bombarded with distractions, it becomes more and more important to get away and find time to think deeply. Building a business can be stressful, but blocking out a window of time out each day to remove yourself from those distractions will allow for better decision making and clarity.

Laugh out loud at least a few times a day.

As Lechleiter points out, if you’re doing something that matters and you really enjoy, it ought to be great fun. Startup and expansion stage life doesn’t have to be all work and no play. If you show that you’re enjoying yourself, it’ll rub off on your employees and create a positive company culture.

That’s a great tip sheet that CEOs in every industry can use. Best of all, they’re likely to be relevant 30 years from now, too.  If I were to add one more to the list, it would be this: Lead from the front, not from the office. Startup and expansion stage companies operate in team-centric environments and the best CEOs lead by example.

So, if you’re founder or CEO that’s working hard to build a great software business and you’re looking for a few rules to live by, you could do a lot worse than sticking to Lechleiter’s list.

Venture Partner

<strong>George Roberts</strong> is a Venture Partner at OpenView. He enjoys partnering with companies and helping them achieve their goals through strategy, focus and operational execution. From 1990 to 2003, George spent 13 years at Oracle Corporation, most recently having served as Executive Vice President of North American Sales. While at Oracle, George was responsible for over $1 billion in revenue and more than 2,000 employees, reporting directly to the company’s CEO and Chairman, Larry Ellison.