7 Lessons In Leadership And Innovation From Top Tech CEOs

How some of the world’s highest-profile leaders overcome defeat, stagnation, and uncertainty.

7 Lessons In Leadership And Innovation From Top Tech CEOs
[Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

Mastering the art of leadership takes time, dedication, and a willingness to fail, and we all need some inspiration from time to time.


Here are some valuable leadership lessons from seven of today’s top CEOs.

1. Focus On People, Strategy, And Execution

“If you get those three right, the world is a great place,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a 2013 talk at his alma mater.

Excellent strategy and execution are the result of high-caliber people who believe in the pursuit of better.

Be your company’s Chief Inspiration Officer and remember that one of the most powerful skills in your leadership arsenal is your ability to focus. Do a few things well and run circles around those doing many things adequately.

2. Be Tough And Tell It Like It Is

Photo: via Xerox

Raised in the public housing projects on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Ursula Burns attributes climbing the ladder to CEO of Xerox to leaning in to difficult situations.

Burdened with leading Xerox to success in a world without Xeroxing, and as the first African-American woman to steer the Fortune 500 company through the treacherous waters of an economic tailspin, she knows a thing or two about being tough and shows us how to be confident, resilient in the face of uncertainty, honest with where you stand, and how to fight like hell to get to where you want to be.


3. Know When Your Team Needs A Confidence Boost

If humanizing Microsoft is the goal, CEO Satya Nadella is the man for the job. With a thoughtful panache, he’s changing the culture of a company that seemed perpetually stuck to one that excites his employees.

Nadella’s “women shouldn’t ask for raises” gaffe aside, his leadership style is people-centric and strategy-focused, which has garnered him an 83% approval rating on Glassdoor.

Bolster the confidence of the people you’re leading by mastering the art of knowing when to intervene and when to step back. If you get it right, they will do great things.

4. Move Fast, Adapt Quickly, And Be Bold

Photo: via IBM

“What keeps me up at night is speed,” said IBM’s Ginni Rometty in a 2014 Fortune interview. “Speed of transformation, [and] continuing to move to that future.”

As fast as you think you’re moving, odds are someone out there is moving faster. Be thoughtful and strategic, but at the same time, be bold and move fast. The need to adapt is constantly imminent—be fearless, try new things, and course-correct along the way.

5. Think About Reinventing Everything

Starting a meeting with 20 minutes of silence so everyone can read a memo isn’t the way most businesses operate, but Amazon CE Jeff Bezos is everything but orthodox.


He demands excellence from everyone around him, and constantly think about reinventing everything—even small things. Refuse to accept conventional wisdom, think big and be supremely uncomfortable with the status quo.

6. Press On With Fortitude And Ferocity

Photo: Dan Taylor/Heisenberg Media

As the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk possesses incredible drive and tremendous self-confidence. He’s said to work 100-hour weeks and never be satisfied.

When the flight of the Falcon 1 rocket failed, Musk addressed his company with a motivating speech before addressing the press, quickly channeling despair and defeat into massive determination.

Rocket science or not, challenges will present themselves–press on and conquer.

7. Embrace Your Crazy Ideas

“When no one else is crazy enough to do it, you have little competition,” Google’s Larry Page said in a 2005 commencement speech. “Have confidence, fail often, [and] have a healthy disregard for the impossible.”

The pursuit of excellence is a never-ending one. Be audacious, believe in audacious ideas, and set audacious goals.


Matt Lush is an account coordinator at The Abbi Agency, a media and marketing firm with offices in Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada. He specializes in B2B software and financial technology PR, strategy and positioning. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.