Adam Bryant has spent his fair share of time in the corner office -– but not his own. As deputy national editor of The New York Times, he works in the newsroom.
Instead, wearing his second hat as the Times’ “Corner Office” columnist, Bryant has put in many hours on the business end of a tape recorder, jotting down the anecdotes, musings and observations of the nation’s top executives and CEOs.
Seventy or so interviews later, some big (and inspiring) themes have emerged. Because Bryant is interested in learning about the person, rather than just their business strategies, he came away with a better understanding of not just what it takes to succeed in business, but also what it takes to succeed in many aspects of life.
Bryant’s observations are revealed in his new book, “The Corner Office” (Times Books, 2011), in which his interview subjects -- including top executives at Microsoft, Zappos, Disney and Yahoo -- share their thoughts on life and success with the former business editor.
In an interview with BusinessNewsDaily, Bryant discussed five of the key traits he observed in the majority of business leaders he interviewed.
Lots of people are passionate about what they love and many are also curious about the world around them. But, it’s the unique combination of the two -- a “relentless questioning” -- that seems to help the most successful leaders find ways to keep growing and improving, Bryant discovered.
“It’s more than the sum of its parts,” Bryant said. “It’s how deeply engaged they are in the world around them; the people and things.”
A willingness to ask “the good dumb questions” allowed these leaders to play a key role within their companies by gaining a real understanding of what works and what doesn’t, Bryant said. “They can get a lot of value out of that.”
“This speaks to the notion of adversity,” Bryant said. While failure may be a dirty word for some, the most successful CEOs have a good track record of facing down adversity and getting through difficult situations, Bryant said.
“Over time this gives them sense of confidence,” he said. “They know what they are capable of.”
“Team smarts is the organization equivalent of street smarts,” Bryant said.
Most successful leaders Bryant spoke with had a strong sense of how things work.
“They can pull a team together and they understand team dynamics,” Bryant said.
On its face, "simple" might not sound like a terribly good quality for a leader of a multibillion dollar corporation. In fact, though, the ability sort through an onslaught of information and identify the kernel of the issue is essential.
“It’s the ability to analyze a mountain of data and pull out the one, two or three things that really matter,” Bryant said. “It’s an important skill for leaders to craft a focused strategy, and then to explain it in simple terms to get all their employees moving in the same direction.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean a willingness to plunge out of an airplane (though many leaders do show similar fearlessness in their personal lives).
Instead, fearlessness in business means having the confidence to shake things up a little bit.
Even when things are going well at a company, these leaders are willing to “break it and turn it upside down,” Bryant said.
Perhaps Bryant’s most important observation was the willingness of these leaders to be patient in getting to the top.
“Many had a willingness to do anything,” he said. “A lot of these CEOs displayed patience and ambition. There’s the comic book notion of CEOs willing to climb over anybody to get to the top,” he said. But that’s not what Bryant observed. Instead, these leaders had a passion for working hard at whatever job they had at the time.
The most important lesson of all?
“Do your job and do it well,” Bryant said.