21 Success Secrets From America’s Top Business Leaders

21 Success Secrets From America’s Top Business Leaders

Every leader has a cheat sheet for success: the things they’ve learned overtime that have helped them cultivate strong teams, manage under fire and just generally inspire a thriving organization–even when the odds are stacked against them.

Below, some of the most effective leaders among this year’s 250 Best-Led Companies share their top-secret tips for business success.

My Secret to Finding Focus: A Post-it Note on my monitor

“When I was 13, I had this great soccer coach, Andy. He had this saying: ‘Focus, focus, focus.’ I still hear it ringing in my head: ‘Focus, focus, focus, Zach, focus, focus, focus.’ I write it on Post-it Notes and put them on my monitor and I talk about it frequently around the company. Doing one thing well as opposed to many things slightly well–that continues to be so important.”

–Zach Perret, co-founder and CEO of financial services company Plaid

My Secret to Breaking Down Silos: Sharing goals

“One of my first initiatives when I joined Exabeam was to realign objectives to force us to share goals that were more collaborative across the company. We had to break down organizational silos and even have certain roles report to two different organizations.”

–Michael DeCesare, CEO of cybersecurity firm Exabeam

My Secret to Business Longevity: Shared ownership

“One-third of our company is owned by employees. We wanted to create a business that people would join and where they would be happy to stay.”

–Jim Henderson, co-founder and CEO of insurer AssuredPartners

My Secret to Effective Meetings: Built-in prep time

“Carve out time during the first 10 to 15 minutes of your meetings for everyone to read memos. It really helps create more structure around a discussion, and allows people to have all the information before jumping into one. Everyone gets all the data, so people can make comments and see those of others–creating a much richer meeting environment.”

–Dev Ittycheria, CEO of database platform MongoDB

My Secret to Successful Partnerships: Letting people in

“I was able to get co-founders I look up to by being unselfish. It’s about letting your ego go a little bit and letting people share in the decision-making and take ownership in the business. A lot of company leaders guard that equity for themselves. Making sure the people around the table are incentivized is important.”

–Kurt Workman, co-founder and CEO of Owlet Baby Care

My Secret to Winning: Hiring people who hate to lose

“We all enjoy the feeling of winning, but that feeling lasts for only a few hours. Our hatred of what it feels like to lose can last for days, even weeks. People who hate to lose use that feeling as motivation to rise to the top and achieve things that others never thought were possible.”

–George Kurtz, co-founder and CEO of cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike

My Secret to a Productive Workplace: Making employees feel safe

“People are happiest and most productive when they have a sense of psychological safety. To create that kind of environment, the leadership team needs to celebrate both success and failure, visibly, in front of the whole company. I love opportunities to go in front of the company and say, ‘Look, this is an area where I got it really wrong.’ “

–Stuart Landesberg, co-founder and CEO of natural home products maker Grove Collaborative

My Secret to Leading Remotely: Connect, personally

“Don’t just jump into the transactional work at the beginning of a call. Take the space–two minutes–to check in with what’s going on in their world. Maybe it’s an interesting book in their background or you hear a dog barking or a kid. Those moments of rapport-building start to unlock the things you have in common, and it snowballs in a positive way. But you have to make the choice to build the relationship.”

–Hayden Brown, CEO of freelance work platform Upwork

My Secret to Building Great Teams: Being intentional

“Define your culture as carefully as your business strategy. Build your guiding principles–mission, values, and vision–into your hiring and leadership.”

–Tim Brown, co-founder and co-CEO of eco-conscious sneaker brand Allbirds

My Secret to Shaping Employees: Mentorship

“Make sure that you and your employees are getting to know people up and down the organization. We have formal mentor programs. We hire people right out of school, and we pair them with our chief architects, because we know they have the potential to learn very quickly. A true meritocracy [comes when] people can grow as fast as they’re ready to.”

–Karl Sun, co-founder and CEO of Lucid, a visual collaboration software company

My Secret to Taking Criticism: Learn to Love It

“If you don’t, the person who suffers the most is going to be yourself. It hurts less and less over time. We’re all unfinished products. If you look at feedback like data and you learn to love it, then the better off for your team and your business.”

–Zachariah Reitano, co-founder and CEO of Ro, a telehealth and online pharmacy startup

My Secret to Staying Cool: Don’t Dilute Your Brand

“We are very careful with our brand and what we do with it. We try to have depth in the communities we operate in, but we try not to be everything to everyone.”

–Matt Reintjes, CEO of YETI, maker of insulated tumblers and outdoor gear

My Secret to Leading the Competition: Stay Nimble

“I remind my team frequently that we are literally creating a new industry, and it’s still so early. When we see an opportunity, we go after it. That mindset not only rallies people to embrace change, but also empowers them to lead through change.”

–Jason Robins, co-founder and CEO of DraftKings, the sports-betting operator

My Secret to Being Relatable: Demonstrate Vulnerability 

“We have a speakers series named after our former CEO, Dave Goldberg, who passed away. So far, we’ve brought in more than 60 leaders, ranging from athletes, politicians, and business executives, to speak to us. It’s an opportunity for employees to not only learn from them, but also to see me be vulnerable and ask questions to people I admire.” 

–Zander Lurie, CEO of business solutions platform Momentive (known for SurveyMonkey)

My Secret to Course Correcting: Dig Into Feedback

“I decided a number of years ago that I would read and respond to every Glassdoor review. We actually shine a light on those; it often leads to nuggets of insight about what we could be doing better, or it shows me a blind spot that I didn’t realize.”

–Dan Burton, CEO of health-data storage and software company Health Catalyst

My Secret to Grooming Leaders: Making Them Want It

“High performers want to be challenged and stretched. We want our team members engaged and pushing for their next role at the company.”

–Deanie Elsner, CEO of Charlotte’s Web Hemp, maker of cannabinoid wellness products

My Secret to Building Trust: Empathy

“Understand your team members’ priorities, their concerns, what they need to achieve personal and emotional health, and how social issues impact them. Then, remain open to feedback and demonstrate your commitment to constant growth and development as a leader.”

–Scott Cutler, CEO of luxury footwear and apparel marketplace StockX

My Secret to Leveling Up: Start With Your People

“Focus on the four P’s: people, plan, process, and performance. If you get the people piece right, you can develop a robust plan. Having the right people also enables you to have the right processes in place because they know what is needed. You do all of those things and you drive the performance of the organization consistently.”

–Nick Vlahos, CEO of The Honest Company, the personal care company founded by Jessica Alba

My Secret to Resilience: Confidence

“You are going to be told no so many times. You are going to have so many challenges that you didn’t anticipate. There are so many reasons to quit. And if you don’t have this attitude of ‘I’m gonna fix this; I’ve got this; and we’ll figure it out,’ then you won’t make it.”

–Julie Wainwright, founder and CEO of online luxury consignment shop The RealReal

My Secret to Leading With Agility: Get Cozy With Change

“You have to have a long-term vision of what to do, but you have to be able to use agility within that framework–and everybody has to feel like they are a part of it. Everyone has to understand that change is a daily occurrence.”

–Mindy Grossman, CEO of WW (formerly Weight Watchers)

My Secret to Radical Transparency: Put It All on Slack

“Our number one form of communication is Slack, and all channels are open, whether it’s our diversity numbers, or how we did on user growth, or a boardroom debrief. Transparency is about having the information searchable and at your fingertips, so you don’t even have to ask someone for it. I trust my team with all the information, good or bad.” 

–Wes Schroll, CEO and founder of savings app Fetch Rewards 

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From the November 2021 issue of Inc. Magazine