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Effective Leadership: taking note from 5 top CEOs
Illustration by Grey Vaisius

6 min read

Effective Leadership: taking note from 5 top CEOs

Effective leadership requires constant improvement, self awareness, and exceptional communication. But it's also about understanding your people's needs. Here's what five top CEOs had to say about how to be an effective leader.

Strong leadership is a learned process. Developing your personal skill set and management style doesn’t happen overnight, nor will it ever be perfected without need for further improvement. Taking note of other successful leaders’ habits and processes can help to develop your own best practices and areas of expertise.

Whether you’re a seasoned business leader or you’ve just recently found yourself in a position of authority, there’s always something to be learned. Here we’ve compiled some useful tips from today’s top CEOs.

Gary Smith, CEO of Ciena

President and CEO of $4.5 billion network strategy and technology company Ciena, Gary Smith is no stranger to leadership. Smith attributes Ciena’s success to the chemistry of his workforce. In an interview with Forbes Magazine, Smith stated, “I believe that team chemistry is more important than individual talent.” Beginning with the hiring process and carrying on into company culture, it’s a leader's responsibility to create an inspiring and motivating work environment by building a team with varying skill sets and perspectives.

At Ciena, extraordinary communication skills, the ability to contextualize why certain actions need to be taken, and a demonstration of alignment with the company's strategy and mission are highly valued.

Smith believes the most important trait of being a good leader is knowing how to also lead yourself. In business, people look to leadership to provide a vision and a clear plan of execution and to communicate said plan with clarity.

To encourage a productive workforce, it’s a leader's responsibility to empower his or her employees and inspire them to deliver the mission at hand. Gary identifies three requirements to instill this mindset in your employees:

  • Understanding of the greater context and desired outcome
  • A personal connection to the potential success
  • Being heard and valued
Effective leadership takeaway: “Leadership is about ensuring that everyone has a productive and safe environment in which to express themselves and to constantly drive to an aligned vision.”


Mark Hurd, CEO of Oracle

Seasoned business leader Mark Hurd has gained his insight from running Oracle, one of the biggest names in technology, and its many acquired companies. In an effort to assist others, Hurd frequently writes about his views on leadership and the advice he’s gained from his personal experience and mentors. He also emphasizes the importance of taking the time to learn and experience as much as possible before rushing into the demanding duties the role requires. 

As Hurd suggests, “Learn as much as you can about every function of your business. Take on as many different jobs as you can. The more you know about every aspect of your business, the easier it will be for you to make good choices.” That advice is where a lot of CEOs miss the mark. Without developing a genuine understanding of your employees’ contributions, you may not be aware of what the company really needs from you.

In a nutshell, Hurd has condensed the essentials of great leadership into three main points:

  • Get the strategy right: In order to keep up with the continuous shifts in consumer demands, a business’s strategy must be adaptable and focused on the target.
  • Execute the strategy: Beyond arranging the proper strategy, a CEO must pave the way for innovation and offerings that surpass the competition.
  • Put the right people in the right places: Surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth even when it may not be what you want to hear; nothing constructive comes out of a team of “yes” people.
Effective leadership takeaway: “The real challenge of leadership is the ability to push aside anything that’s not directly tied to setting a great strategy, executing upon it brilliantly, and putting terrific people in the right positions.”


Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn

Viewed as one of the most beloved CEOs in the world, LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner has a 97 percent employee approval rating. Weiner is known to be quite open about sharing his views and advice for fellow CEOs.

Back in 2017, Weiner tweeted the four qualities he claims can change the game of effective leadership. The tweet read: “Inspire, empower, listen & appreciate. Practicing any one of these can improve employee engagement; mastering all four can change the game."

Breaking down the four qualities, it all comes down to people.

  • Inspire: Humility and the understanding that there’s always something to be learned can place you in the right mindset to open your mind and engage employees. Actionable qualities are what truly inspire others.
  • Empower: Depending on the nature of your business, empowering employees can be as simple as encouraging them to share thoughts and opinions in meetings or allowing for experimental work studies to test out new ideas. Implementing flexible work arrangements for employees who do their best work from home is also a recommended practice.
  • Listen: Strong leaders understand that their strength comes from those around them. Possessing strong listening skills and knowing when to let the other person have the floor is crucial.
  • Appreciate: Everyone wants to feel appreciated for their hard work. Going a step further than simply telling someone “good job” by sharing the specifics of what you appreciate and why can make a world of difference.
Effective leadership takeaway: “Even negative feedback can be a gift. Take it seriously, but don't let it define you. Define yourself.”


Jim Barnett, CEO of Glint

Focusing heavily on the importance of good company culture, Glint CEO Jim Barnett uses his own leadership advice to help others run successful businesses. Happy and engaged employees are considered to be the most productive, so it’s in a leader’s best interest to invest in their employees’ wellbeing. In an interview with Conscious Company Media, Barnett explains his views on how culture can be impacted by those in a position of leadership.

“Happy and engaged workers have a sense of meaning or purpose in their jobs. They have an ability to grow and learn,” says Barnett. It’s a leader’s role to create this environment and shape employees to feel inspired and valuable in their workplace.

Bringing in employees with specific strengths and abilities can facilitate a productive workforce as well as create a culture of satisfaction and motivation. This success comes from recognizing the need to put people first, knowing that strategy and organization will follow.

Effective leadership takeaway: “The best way to become a strong leader is to work on yourself, even more so than skills development.”


Cal Turner, former CEO of Dollar General

Cal Turner Jr., the former CEO of Dollar General, considers the most important trait of any CEO to be the ability to listen. In his book My Father’s Business, Turner shares his experience in taking over the family business and the skills he had to acquire to succeed. Fine-tuning his ability to listen was instrumental in building his positive reputation among employees.

In his book, Turner recounts a day when he was criticized for the way he asks employees to tell him what they believe is wrong with the company. Challenging that criticism, he explained his reasoning that leaders shouldn’t ask questions for the purpose of hearing how wonderful their company is, but rather they should focus on listening to people and seeking out useful insight.

Soliciting actionable truth is the responsibility of a boss. As Turner puts it, “It’s not about making the boss feel good. It’s about helping the company to be better.”

Effective leadership takeaway: “The highest talent of leadership is that communication talent that’s based on solid listening.”


Effective leadership is all about learning, communicating (listening), and knowing yourself and what you stand for. Incorporating the tips of these CEOs into how you lead your people is just one way to develop as a leader. Effective leadership requires constant attention and rigorous self awareness—you always should be searching for ways to improve and better cater to the needs of your people and your business.

Interested in becoming a better leader?
Read some tips from our CEO

Maddie Davis

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