It’s been three years since I made the leap from successful accountant to entrepreneur. Before making the jump I read quotes from successful leaders to motivate myself. Here are some of the quotes that inspired me then and some more recent ones that have inspired me since. Whether you’ve just started a company or have been running one for awhile, there is a lot you can learn from some of the most successful CEOs.
This list compiles some of the best advice out there from CEOs on success, working with your team, becoming a CEO, being a CEO and dealing with customers as a CEO. Every quote has helped me become a much better leader myself.
1. “When you start a company, it’s more an art than a science because it’s totally unknown. Instead of solving high-profile problems, try to solve something that’s deeply personal to you. Ideally, if you’re an ordinary person and you’ve just solved your problem, you might have solved the problem for millions of people.” Brian Chesky, Airbnb.
2. “I never set out to be CEO. I always set out to be a good team member, a good colleague.” John Stumpf, Wells Fargo.
3. “Every time you make the hard, correct decision you become a bit more courageous, and every time you make the easy, wrong decision you become a bit more cowardly. If you are CEO, these choices will lead to a courageous or cowardly company.” Ben Horowitz, Andreessen Horowitz.
4. “To build a great company, which is a CEO’s job, sometimes you have to stand up against conventional wisdom.” Carly Fiorina, Hewlett-Packard.
5. “My goal was never to just create a company. A lot of people misinterpret that, as if I don’t care about revenue or profit or any of those things. But what not being just a company means to me is not being just that – building something that actually makes a really big change in the world.” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook.
On working with your team
6. “Talent is the No. 1 priority for a CEO. You think it’s about vision and strategy, but you have to get the right people first.” Andrean Jung, Grameen America.
7. “Teaching your employees something new creates an instant connection, and they will respect you for it. If you can do this in a job interview, you will be sure to attract the smartest people. Money doesn’t mean much to a lot of the smartest people in the world—they want to grow their intelligence rather than their wallet. If you show employees that they will progress intellectually in their career, and economically while at your company, then they will want to work for you.” Taso Du Val, Toptal.
8. “The real damper on employee engagement is the soggy, cold blanket of centralized authority. In most companies, power cascades downwards from the CEO. Not only are employees disenfranchised from most policy decisions, they lack even the power to rebel against egocentric and tyrannical supervisors.” Gary Hamel, Gary Hamel Consulting.
9. “Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.” Anne M. Mulcahy, Xerox.
10. “The lessons I learned from the dark days at Alibaba are that you’ve got to make your team have value, innovation, and vision. Also, if you don’t give up, you still have a chance. And, when you are small, you have to be very focused and rely on your brain, not your strength.” Jack Ma, Alibaba.
On becoming a CEO
11. “The path to the CEO’s office should not be through the CFO’s office, and it should not be through the marketing department. It needs to be through engineering and design.” Elon Musk, SpaceX.
12. “If you want a CEO role, you have to prepare for it with a vengeance.” Denise Morrison, Campbell Soup Company.
13. “I always believe that, as you start out, while you should have a big dream – a big goal – but it’s also important to move step by step. So, you know, frankly, if you ask me, when I started as a management trainee in 1984, I don’t know that I really thought that I would become the CEO.” Chanda Kochhar, ICICI Bank.
On being a CEO
14. “Just because you are CEO, don’t think you have landed. You must continually increase your learning, the way you think, and the way you approach the organization. I’ve never forgotten that.” Indra Nooyi, PepsiCO.
15. “As the CEO, I have to take care of the short term, mid term and the long term.” Carlos Ghosn, Nissan.
16. “I am who I am, and I’m focused on that, and being a great CEO of Apple.” Tim Cook, Apple.
17. “As a wife, daughter, friend, and the founder and CEO of LearnVest, my schedule is anything but simple. But I learned early on how to meticulously manage my time.” Alexa Von Tobel, LearnVest.
18. “As an entrepreneur, I try to push the limits. Pedal to the metal.” Travis Kalanick, Uber.
20. “When you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts.” – Larry Ellison, Oracle.
21. “Software innovation, like almost every other kind of innovation, requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people, and to sit down and talk with customers and get their feedback and understand their needs.” Bill Gates, Microsoft.
22. “I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.” Marissa Mayer, Yahoo!.
23. “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” Jeff Bezos, Amazon.
24. “Never forget that you only have one opportunity to make a first impression – with investors, with customers, with PR, and with marketing.” Natalie Massenet, Net-a-Porter.
25. “It is so much easier to be nice, to be respectful, to put yourself in your customers’ shoes and try to understand how you might help them before they ask for help, than it is to try to mend a broken customer relationship.” Mark Cuban, AXS TV.
Here’s to becoming the best leaders and CEOs that we can be.
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