Success Sutras for CEOs

Adapted from “21 Success Sutras for CEOs” by Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D.

“Your first and foremost job as a leader is to take charge of your own energy and then help to orchestrate the energy of those around you.”

―Peter F. Drucker

When you look at leaders such as Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric; Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford; Carlos Chosn, CEO of Renault-Nissasn; Sam Palmisano, former CEO of IBM; Alan George Lafley, CEO of Procter & Gamble; Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple; Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group; Herb Kelleher, co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines; and Lakshmi Niwas Mittal, chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal, they all encountered lots of leadership challenges in the turbulent business world, succeeded as CEOs, and left a mark for other leaders to follow. CEOs encounter innumerable challenges to lead their organizations effectively. This article underscores success sutras for CEOs to overcome their leadership challenges to keep their organizations great globally.

  1. Carry all stakeholders with you: Carrying all stakeholders—especially shareholders, board members, and customers—is a major challenge for CEOs currently as expectations are higher than in the past. Some CEOs have been fired as they could not live up to the expectations of their board members and shareholders. Hence, CEOs always must be transparent while dealing with board members.
  2. Emphasize organizational culture: Culture connects employees to create an emotional bond to improve organizational bottom lines. A.G. Lafley of P&G strove hard to connect people by emphasizing on organizational culture. In fact, strategy and culture are two eyes of an organization, with strategy as the guiding path and culture as the driving path. Balancing and blending these both will enhance CEO effectiveness. Tony Hsieh, CEO of, encouraged his employees to come up with their own ideas for building the organizational culture, which worked out well. The company formalized the definition of culture into 10 core values. It attracts the best talent. It recruits employees at the entry level. It trains and grooms the talent. Everyone must come out with new things once a week. It is noted for its amazing customer care and service.
  3. Encourage innovation: Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple, comes to mind when talking about innovation. He kept Apple healthy and strong by keeping competitors at a bay through his innovative and inspiring leadership. When the entire technological world got into the so-called PC wars, Jobs took the path less traveled and became a trailblazer, and a legend. He started as a small fish in a big pond and ultimately became a big pond of innovation and excellence. He rewrote the rules of business and changed the way technology worked. He made a big difference to the lives of people through his technological contributions.
  4. Equip with technical and business acumen: CEOs must possess both technical and business acumen. Steel tycoon Lakshmi Niwas Mittal encountered innumerable challenges when he acquired Arcelor Steel. His business battle turned out to be a political one. He led from the front to overcome the leadership challenges successfully. He proved his critics wrong by displaying his business and technical acumen with timely judgment. He encountered several leadership challenges to consolidate the steel industry globally.
  5. Learn when to hold and fold: CEOs must demonstrate flexible fortitude. They must know when to hold and fold. It helps cut down the costs and manage time. However, it is tough to judge when to hold and fold. It requires extraordinary gut and intuition to let go and move on. It is a dilemma whether to follow your head or heart while making decisions. Although it is a well-admitted fact that nobody can control events, CEOs must act wisely as per the situation to decide when to hold and fold.
  6. Be bold to lead in turbulent times: The present global business environment demands both soft and hard leaders. When times are good, anyone can be at the helm. When the sailing is rough, the real leaders and CEOs come to the forefront to sail the ship successfully to the shore. Abraham Lincoln led America during turbulent times. When America faced dual challenges of slavery and a Civil War, Lincoln demonstrated his leadership acumen by managing all stakeholders, including his political rivals, effectively to abolish slavery and ensure the unity of America. It is for this reason many leaders look to Lincoln whenever they encounter leadership challenges irrespective of their political ideologies and countries.
  7. Practice continuous dissatisfaction: It is essential to celebrate accomplishments but never get complacent about them. Be prepared mentally that competitors are always entering into your business. There is no room for complacency in the current dynamic global business scenario. Instead of resting on their laurels, CEOs must deliver their goods effectively to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.
  8. Avoid becoming a victim of greed: Trust in business has been on a steep decline since the beginning of the Great Recession. There is a lack of trust in leaders and CEOs globally due to the collapse of companies such as Enron, Tyco, Lehman Brothers, WorldCom, and Global Crossing. CEOs must build their trust and confidence among all stakeholders globally. They must be transparent to build trust, and walk their talk to lead from the front.
  9. Avoid clinging to the status quo: CEOs must avoid the business models and systems that worked in the past because what worked in the past and present might not work in the future as times and technologies are changing rapidly. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos avoided clinging to the status quo. He is a visionary leader with clarity in his approach. He turned selling books online into a multibillion-dollar business that has changed the trend of retailing forever. Hence, CEOs must shed the old and embrace new tools and techniques.
  10. Encounter economic decline: Companies around the world need to collaborate as we move forward with opportunities. Ensuring the sustainability of businesses is an imperative. In fact, CEOs have been more concerned about the sustainability of their business for the last five years due to global financial crisis. It threw a few globally respected companies into near bankruptcy. The CEOs who were on the offensive mode until then started to become defensive to ensure the sustainability of their businesses.
  11. Invest in the future: Provide leadership development training programs to employees regularly. It helps them perform well and grow as leaders. For instance, Jack Welch, former CEO of GE shared his experiences through leadership development training programs. Steel company ArcelorMittal provides leadership development programs to its employees. Previously, it was the machine behind the people that counted, but today, it is the people behind the machine that counts.

As a CEO, you must listen to your inner voice, and do what is good with a long view. You must ensure that your passion, energy, and vision are constantly aligned with your organization to successfully overcome leadership challenges.

This article was adapted from21 Success Sutras for CEOs” by Professor M.S.Rao, Ph.D. For more information, visit:

International leadership guru Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D., is the Father of “Soft Leadership” and Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is a leadership educator, executive coach, speaker, and consultant. He has 36 years of experience, and is the author of 36 books, including the award-winning “21 Success Sutras for CEOs” ( His book, “21 Success Sutras for Leaders (, was ranked as one of the Top 10 Leadership Books of the Year―2013 by San Diego University. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. His vision is to build 1 million students as global leaders by 2030 ( Dr. Rao serves as an advisor and judge for several international organizations, including Global Leadership Awards in Malaysia, Middle East Business Leaders Summits & Awards in Dubai, and Small Business Book Awards in the United States. His published books are available on Amazon at: Most of his work is available free of charge on his four blogs:,, and E-mail him at and follow him on Twitter at


Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D.
Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D., is the Father of “Soft Leadership” and the Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with 43 years of experience and the author of 52 books, including the award-winning "See the Light in You" ( He has published more than 300 papers and articles in international publications, including Leader to Leader, Thunderbird International Business Review, Strategic HR Review, Development and Learning in Organizations, Industrial and Commercial Training, On the Horizon, and Entrepreneur magazine. He is a soldier, entrepreneur, editor, educator, author, enlightener, and philosopher. He is a C-suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He brings a strategic eye and long-range vision, given his multifaceted professional experience that includes military, teaching, training, research, consultancy, and philosophy. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. He trains a new generation of leaders through leadership education and publications. His vision is to build one million students as global leaders by 2030 ( He advocates gender equality globally (#HeForShe). He invests his time in authoring books and blogging on executive education, learning, and leadership. Most of his work is available free of charge on his four blogs, including He is a prolific author and a dynamic, energetic, and inspirational leadership speaker. He can be reached at