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One CEO’s cheat sheet to the top

Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder FinnKathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn
Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder FinnCourtesy of Ruder Finn, Inc.

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time? is written by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

Leaders get to top positions through ambition, results-focused drive and a lot of hard work. Many think that getting there is the hard part, but in my opinion, it’s what you deliver as a leader that is the real barometer for success. Leaders must always be on the edge of their seat for the hard knocks ahead. Below is my cheat sheet to success for new or aspiring leaders:

  • Be prepared to be wrong. As you take on a leadership role, it’s important that you never get too confident. I find that the best leaders stay humble. Go deep into your organization to hear buzz at all levels, learn where there are strengths and also get early warnings about potential weaknesses. Don’t get isolated at the top. We are all operating in markets that are rapidly changing with business models in constant transition. Be prepared that what you thought was right yesterday might not be on target for tomorrow. You have to look for the ways to disrupt and redirect your mindset and your organization – which takes a lot of courage and determination.
  • Break some glass. When it comes to making big moves – branching out into new territories, establishing new guidelines or taking a company in an entirelynew direction – there will constantly be reasons to retreat. And some people may not have the skillset needed for these new endeavors. But true leaders aren’t afraid to break some glass and go with their gut when there is real opportunity. Be decisive and push the organization forward. Inspire the team to get behind you and uncover the ambassadors throughout the organization that can help drive success and engagement.
  • Don’t be insular. You have to stay close to customers and regularly watch competitors. That means spending a large percentage of your time outside the company, so you evolve your thinking and can stay ahead of trends. The pressures of leadership jobs weigh heavily toward internal efforts –but you have to push hard to balance these with external relationships as well.
  • Set tough goals. Leaders get to where they are by having a vision and knowing how to deliver. Now is the time to set some ambitious goals and stretch targets. You also need the right team behind you to get there – but first you must live and believe the dream yourself. This means battling the urge to get caught in the complexities and roadblocks of the day-to-day and pushing yourself to make your vision a reality.

Complacency is the enemy. True leaders don’t let themselves fall into habits and instead put themselves into situations that are uncomfortable, but which open up growth opportunities. Remember the only way to guarantee failure is by never trying something new.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

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