“Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde
A few years back I went on a tour around Microsoft, asking various executive leaders a brief set of questions.
I wanted to know what what their day is like, what drives them, and what holds them back.
I wanted to know what do they know now that they wish they knew back then, when they first started. Mostly I wanted the benefit of their hind-sight and school of hard-knocks.
What I Asked Executive Leaders at Microsoft
I really wanted to know “A Day in the Life” of the executive leaders. I wanted to get the WHY, WHAT, and HOW behind their stories. I wanted to know holds them back. I wanted to know what propels them forward.
Here are the questions I asked the executive leaders at Microsoft:
- What’s your story? (why Microsoft and what was your path)
- How do you manage your day?
- What’s the favorite part of your day?
- What are the keys to making things happen?
- How do you influence change across an organization?
- Why and when does change fail?
- What’s your take on thought leaders vs. people leaders?
- What is success?
- What are your key guiding principles?
- How do you build relationships that support you?
- How do you leverage your relationships?
- What limits what you can accomplish?
- What’s the secret to life?
- What is your biggest regret? Or, what do you know now, you wish you knew then?
- If you had a genie that could grant three wishes, what would they be?
Leaders are People, Too
Everybody is human. These questions revealed a lot about just how human everybody is. If you ever forget just how human we all are, just ask somebody for their life story.
Everybody has issues. Everybody has flaws. Everybody has their demons. Everybody is working on creating a better version of themselves.
Everybody wants to do the best with what they’ve got, in the best way they know how.
All Leaders Share Similar Success Patterns and Similar Problem Patterns
I found various success patterns show up time and again.
I also found the same kinds of problems show up time and again. (I’ve addressed some of these problems in Getting Results the Agile Way.)
They all had struggles in some shape or form around their mind, their body, their emotions, their career, their relationships, and how they have fun.
And they all cared about doing meaningful things, and making a lasting impact.
They all cared about how they could change the world in at least some small way … their way.
They wanted to make a difference. They wanted to matter. They wanted to touch lives.
People and Ideas are the Best Things Leaders Can’t Buy
What did leadership executives teach me that I didn’t expect?
What surprised me the most was the biggest limitation for leaders of all levels. Even leaders that have all the money and all the power. You would think they have it all, but they don’t. You would think these leaders were limitless in what they could achieve. But they aren’t.
Even powerful executive leaders still have a serious and significant limit on what they are capable of.
And it all comes down to one thing.
So, what exactly was THE single biggest bottleneck that money and power could not buy? …
… Access to the right people and access to the best ideas.
Just because you’re a leader or an executive doesn’t entitle you to access to the best and the brightest in the bunch.
The best ideas come from brilliant people, and brilliant people tend to follow their favorite leaders.
Top talent is the ultimate bottleneck.
Creative people are more precious than ever.
If you want to change your game, help people realize their potential and become all that they are capable of.
Otherwise, you’ll find yourself lonely at the top.
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Photo by Darcy McCarty.