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CEOs Open Their Kimonos to the Hidden Cocktail of Elite Success

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Editorial note: A version of this article appeared in The Huffington Post on December 29, 2015.

I hear the foremost occupants of the c-suite open the kimono to their thoughts for hours every day–enough to cherry-pick the essential qualities that mark the true greats in leadership.

When moving climbers of supreme potential into the upper echelons of achievement, I mix a cocktail of three ingredients (or Gs):

cocktailGrit – In today’s hard-driving society and with the media regularly vilifying our greatest corporate leaders, grit is the most regularly practiced G–unfortunately, in the opposite manner it truly should. The common perception of leaders makes grit out to be that of a bully–to bulldoze employees and the competition in the name of shareholder value and profits. Shareholder interests should, indeed, be the c-suite’s foremost goal, but this road is truly paved in a different type of grit–one of leaders conquering their own fears, of maintaining integrity in times when corporate demons combat their better judgment, and being willing to accept failure by taking the right daunting risks to produce desired outcomes. The most common example I find with leaders facing grit roadblocks is to gracefully let go of people who are causing talented people to leave the company and/or who are polluting the mission of the organization. Which brings me to …

Grace – Leaders espousing all three Gs will make themselves great, and in turn, their organizations thrive. But at the end of the day, the attractiveness of an organization to talent, both in and outside the company comes from top-down grace. I believe the two powerful ways to show grace in a way that inspires employees are to admit mistakes and ask for input. All too often, leaders feel they need to appear infallible, which has three adverse effects on personnel. First, employees find it taboo to seek help with a challenging problem, hampering innovation and creating strategic and productivity gluts. Second, employees develop inferiority complexes, wondering why they should strive at all if those occupying the prestigious nodes on their career paths are some different breed or species of human to whom they can’t even relate. And third, employees will repress their own brilliant ideas, fearing the consequences of imperfection. Such an environment is a breeding ground for failure, and leaders cannot succeed unless their company does so as well.

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