How to become a CEO: 24 tips to get you on the right path

Updated: Aug 1

So you want to become a CEO?

We recently finished reading How To Become A CEO, by Jeffrey J. Fox. It was 150+ pages long and we have summarised our key learnings below so you don't have to read the full book yourself.

These learnings have been split into 3 categories;

How can I become a better leader / manager?

#1 - Send Handwritten Notes

There are endless occasions that warrant a handwritten note; thank-yous, praise, congratulations, regrets, FYIs, your presentation was just great etc.

We have become desensitized to digital communication because it happens so often. Wind back the clock and send a personalized, hand-written note to your colleagues.

#2 - Over-Invest In People

Companies that “save money” by only hiring people they can “afford” are headed to mediocrity in their industry (if they are not already there). It is better to hire one exceptional person at $100k per year than two average people at $50k each. Overinvest with emotional currency, as well. Give the winners trust, independence, praise, freedom & encouragement.

#3 - Overpay For Great Talent, Get Rid Of Mediocrity

If a person should be paid $50 an hour, she knows it. If you pay her $40, it will cost you a hundred times the savings in sabotage. She will feel cheated. She won’t go the extra inch, won’t work the extra hour. She will find a way - mentally, physically, or economically - to punish you for paying her unfairly.

If a person should be paid $50 an hour, and everyone knows it, pay her $60. You will get much more production than the extra $10 will cost you, because the person will stretch to justify your confidence in her.

Shortsighted managers don’t understand this. They think they are keeping costs down. They think people should be happy to have the job in the first place. They believe people aren’t worth their pay.

On the other hand, some people aren’t worth their pay, and they can’t exist at any level in the organization. Get rid of the mediocre, the slackers, for they take money from the real workers. One non-earner’s salary can be spread among many.

You can’t cut people costs and save money. People are an asset, a contributing return on investment. You make money on people. If an investment in a bank account was returning 20% on capital, would you cut costs (i.e. reduce your investment)? Of course not. You would increase your investment.

You are much better having fewer exceptional people all making more money than they should, rather than having the same or lower payroll costs with more people.

#4 - Give Informal Surprise Bonuses

Everyone who works for you will know that if they do a superlative job, lighting might strike. And they will work hard to increase their chances.

#5 - Learn The Sales Function Within Your Business

This will earn you credentials with the salesforce. It will earn you your spurs with sales management, always a powerful group in a corporation. You will know what motivates and demotivates the sales people. You will also have knowledge of customers, and that knowledge is a source of great power. Where possible, try to listen to calls or speak to customers directly so you understand first-hand what they like, and dislike about your business.

Work the trenches, and the trenches will work for you.

#6 - Don’t Be An Empire Builder

Many managers mistakenly think that having the biggest budget or most people reporting to them is a guarantee to getting the top job. In reality, it is the manager who gets the job done with less - less money and fewer people - who is most needed by corporations.

How should I act at work?

#7 - Do Not Get Discouraged By Idea Killers

Companies are filled with idea killers - they say things such as “we’ve tried that before” or “management won’t buy it”, or the most common “it won’t work”.

Don’t give in. Don’t give up. Idea people build businesses. Builders get to the top. Don’t let the idea killers whittle you into mediocrity. Think boldly. Execute enthusiastically. Battle the inertia in the company. A little success will attract contributors and supporters from every corner of the company.

#8 - Get Shit Done

If you say you will do something, do it. If you say you won’t do something, don’t do it. If you see something that has to get done, make it happen.

#9 - Learn To Speak And Write In Plain English

Business communications must be precise, complete and totally comprehensible. Both written and verbal communication, especially job direction, must be to the point. Long, tedious, flowery, jargon-filled communications are wasteful.

#10 - Think One Hour For Every Day

Spend one hard hour every day planning, dreaming, scheming, thinking, calculating. Use this time to review your goals, consider options, ponder problems & write down ideas.

Use a special “idea notebook” to document everything you think about.

#11 - Make Friday “How Ya Doin?” Day

Every Friday, take one of the people you need out to lunch and ask, “How ya doin’?”

If you don’t know who you need, find out. Business is like a machine. Every part needs to work. Every part needs to be oiled. Find out who you need, no matter how low in the organization, and let them know you need and appreciate them. Make one good ally in your company every month.

#12 - Know Everybody By Their First Name

This is a core principle highlighted in How to win friends & influence people, by Dale Carnegie.

To most people, there is no sound sweeter than their name remembered and pronounced CORRECTLY. Learn everybody’s full name and know something about them outside of work. If you learn that (sincerely), and bridge your conversation around it, you will be successful.

#13 - Listen

Listening can be learned. It can be practiced. When someone is speaking, stop what you are doing, look at the person and listen. Good listeners are considered great conversationalists. Listening is equated with wisdom and intelligence.

Remember, you were born with 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason!

#14 - Never Panic … Or Lose Your Temper

Story: In the middle of an important wine crush (at a winery), the president received a frantic call from his managers. The winemaker had resigned. The president instantly knew the damage potential, but he stayed calm, thought for some momentum then asked - “What would you do if the winemaker had died instead of resigned?” The managers said they would make so-and-so the winemaker. “So be it”, said the president, and the new winemaker carried on the winery tradition for fifteen years.

“Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain cool and unruffled under all circumstances” - Thomas Jefferson

#15 - Record And Collect Your Mistakes

Whatever the root cause of your mistake, record it. You probably will never make it again. Make notes on what you learned, how you would handle the same event again.

#16 - No Goals, No Glory

You must write down your goals in your idea notebook. You should have at least two sets of goals; one for your business career and one set for your life. Your goals should have 25, 10, 5 and 1 year timetables.

Your 1-year goals should be broken into monthly steps. The monthly steps should be parceled into weekly steps and each weekly goal should be split into a daily task (To-Do List).

If you don’t have goals, you won’t achieve them. Goals beget goals.

How can I progress in my career?

#17 - Avoid Staff Jobs, Seek Line Jobs

Line jobs make money for your corporation. Line jobs bring in money or have a direct relationship with profits and losses. Line jobs are where the action is - they directly help the company get and keep customers.

Line jobs include salespeople, sales managers, product managers, plant managers, marketing directors, foremen, supervisors and general managers.

Staff jobs include lawyers, planners, data-processing people, research and development scientists, and administrators of all types. These types of jobs generally don’t assist directly with the P&L of a corporation. Jobs that don’t get and keep customers are redundant.

#18 - Always Say “Yes” To A Senior Executive Request

Always saying Yes to a Senior Executive may appear like “brown-nosing” (and maybe it is) BUT there is no denying that people who get the job done are the ones who get the top jobs.

If you can be known by Executives as the one who always gets shit done, you will progress quickly through the ranks.

#19 - Make Your Boss Look Good, And Your Boss’s Boss Look Better

Your boss cannot promote you without getting approval from her superiors. If you have made your boss’s boss look better, your entire promotability equation will be enhanced, Your boss’ boss is always the key. He / She is often more interested and influential in your career than your immediate superior.

#20 - Never Let A Good Boss Make A Mistake

One of the best things that can happen to you to help your ascendancy in a corporation is to work for a good boss. A good boss trains you to take her place, and when she ultimately gets promoted, you have a chance to progress.

Don’t let your good boss make a mistake that could hurt her promotability, because that directly hurts your promotion chances. Don’t let your good boss make a mistake that could hurt your company, because that makes it harder for the company to flourish … and the better your company performs, the more resources are available for rewards.

#21 - Find And Fill The Data Gaps

In business, when someone says “I think” or “I believe” usually means that they don’t know. This means that there is a data gap i.e. an opportunity to figure something out.

People who know they cannot possibly know everything but are willing hard to find the data are the ones who succeed.

#22 - Do Actual Work, Not Office Bullsh*t

Most people in business never really work hard. They manufacture a busy look by bustle and busywork. They read reports, go to meetings, write long-winded emails, fill out forms and waste time. This is the “rocking-chair syndrome” - lots of movement but not going anywhere.

Hard workers spend the same amount of time, but they use it intensely. They do the hard things. They do the homework. The find out the data gaps and figure out how to get something done. They work on the nitty-gritty details of execution. They cover all bases and consider all the options. But most of all, they think. They dig.

#23 - Execution Is 10x More Important Than The Original Idea

No matter what you are trying to launch, it is the excellence of execution that will determine success or failure.

No concept will be perfect initially. It takes constant iterations to make something look like a “great idea”.

#24 - Learn > Teach > Lead

Always accept the chance to make a training presentation in your company. No matter what your job is, you can improve your company by teaching others what you do, why you do it, how you do it, and anything connected with your responsibility.

If you have to teach, you will prepare your presentation. Your preparation requires homework, organization, synthesis, and practice. The necessary study and discipline will help you master and add to your knowledge.

It will also earn you a company-wide reputation as an expert in your job and will allow you to create strong circles of influence.


I hope this has inspired you to become 1% better tomorrow.


Ben the Bearded Man

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