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Clash or Complement: What Can the Elite CEOs Learn From Each Other?

There are a number of different ways to run a business, and it takes a careful balance of different factors. Do you lead with your personality? Your sense of management? Honesty and humility, or being brash and bold? Lead with conscientiousness and care, or push the envelope unabashedly for the new and innovative? Whatever your stance, there will always be areas of improvement and strengths that overwhelm others, leaving some weakened traits in their wake. Everyone under your reign is looking to you for guidance, as well as those outside the company as well, as you serve with often very publicised decisions under the weight of constant scrutiny.

So, what are the best factors to lead with, and what can be missing with these traits? What do the biggest and brightest at the helm today bring to the table, and conversely, what could, and oftentimes should, they learn—perhaps even from each other?

There are some massively influential, inspiring leaders out there. There’s a lot to learn from them, but what lessons might they need? If we’re focusing on personality and the ways in which this can affect the ability to lead, we need only look to the likes of Elon Musk—probably one of the most notable personalities in our Top 50 CEOs list. Musk, among other things, is best known for his unconventional approach and ability to add a sense of whimsey to an otherwise professional space. This has worked in his favour to make him not only memorable and unique, but showcase his innovative thinking and honest-to-goodness ingenuity, from his work to bring people to space through SpaceX, or the other end of the spectrum—flamethrowers, of all things, from The Boring Company, for both of which he serves as the CEO. However, this comes with its own downfall, as anyone following his Twitter will know: he sometimes plays it a bit fast and loose with announcements that should best be saved for a more official setting.

Along with tweeting that Tesla, electric automotive manufacturer, was to be made private, he also tweeted that funding had been secured. This led to an SEC investigation and allegations of fraud, for which he was inevitably charged and was dropped as Chair of the company. Even the figure he announced, which he set at $420, was due to the number’s association with marijuana and done simply as a joke (intentionally rounding up to that number because business decisions like these should be based on humour, of course.) Personality, in this case, can endear us to the CEO and bring a touch of fresh air to what may be a stale market of no-nonsense, all business leaders. Like anything else, however, too much of a good thing leads to trouble, and perhaps Musk could stand to learn the benefits of privacy—lest one of his hallmark traits becomes his greatest foible.

Musk has a number of similar traits to former Apple CEO, the late Steve Jobs: passion, ambition and a rebellious streak to name a few. Jobs revolutionised computing with a new approach in the industry, using his imagination and pure drive to make the overwhelming impact on the world of technology that he accomplished over the years. For Musk and Jobs, the status quo wasn’t enough. New heights are to be reached, even if it takes a rarely considered method to get there—and, in Job’s case, his abrasive nature had brought a touch of unfavourable attention with his pragmatic approach. Lee Clow, when discussing his working relationship with Jobs, described him as “tough if not tougher on people than Jay [Chiat],” who had the notable saying: “Good enough is not enough.” Despite this, it must be said that such a personality gets the job done, and gets it done to standard, even if it may not have sweetened everyone to his case. He had achieved swathes of greatness which continues to this day, and his mark on the industry and the world is irreplaceable. With two boisterous personalities such as these, who knows what a Musk and Jobs business partnership might have looked like.

Musk has also described a valuable trait that Jobs and his on-and-off rival, Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates, has in common: employee retention. As he puts it: “They’re obviously very driven and they’re very talented.”

“The ability to attract and motivate great people is critical to the success of a company, because a company is just a group of people that are assembled to create a product or service.” He added: “If you’re able to get great people to join the company and work together towards a common goal, then you will end up with a great product.”

Intellect is another trait that brings these top CEOs together, including another from the technology industry, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. On the flipside, Zuckerberg is more reserved than the above examples, and has been described as “shy” and more of an introvert alongside the more extroverted Musk. In a similar vein, Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway CEO, overcame his fear of public speaking—proof that improvements can be made as he took inspiration from the speeches and vocal impact of Martin Luther King. Buffett witnessed one of King’s speeches in person, and described it as “one of the most inspiring” speeches of his life. Improving one’s communication skills, including public speaking, can “instantly improve a person’s value by 50%” according to Buffett. As such, there is a lot that can be learned from not only him, but the powerful impact of Martin Luther King and his tremendous qualities as well.

Then comes a downside, where Buffett might be able to learn a few things from Zuckerberg: technology. Buffett is open about his avoidance of the technology sector, and actively avoids investing in it as he makes it a habit not to invest in what he doesn’t understand. He has also said that he avoids emails—a quality he shares with Jamie Dimon and Carl Icahn. On his additional avoidance of Twitter, he has said: “I just think there’s other things in life I want to do than tweet. I am not that desperate for somebody to hear my opinion.” Something that, maybe, Musk should heed, as Buffet then said of him and his tweeting habits: “I don’t think it’s helped him a lot.” Buffet does currently have a Twitter page, with a very respectable 1.47 million followers despite only nine tweets, none of which were written by him. In a rapidly advancing technological-heavy world, it pays to be up-to-speed with what modernisation has to offer… used wisely, of course.

Finally, you have the very top of the ladder, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Under his leadership, Amazon has grown prodigious amounts and reached a worth of a trillion dollars in September of this year. Bezos himself has a net worth of around $125 billion, is considered by many to be a genius, and is also said to value the customer extremely highly—Bezos himself said: “If you want to get to the truth about what makes us different, it’s this: We are genuinely customer-centric, we are genuinely long-term oriented, and we genuinely like to invent.” What anyone can learn from Bezos is the focus on the customer, which is itself the backbone to any business: no customers, no company.

Employee retention, customer-focus, embracing (and knowing when to avoid) technology and that all-too risky overt personality and public face all roll into one idea of what it takes to be a successful leader: there are many variations involved, but the things to keep in mind are moderation, unification and growth. Always think ahead to what you can improve, unify your skills, and perhaps understand that going to an extreme might not be the best way forward.

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