These 8 Keys Help Young CEOs Succeed. Here’s What You Can Learn From Them

Photo of author

( — January 14, 2020) — 

According to QZ, the average CEO is now an even 50 years old, significantly higher than the median age.

That’s no surprise, of course. Reaching the top of the corporate ladder, even in a small organization, typically takes many years. It’s not just a matter of talent; CEOs also need wisdom, experience, and credibility with members of their corporate board, among other attributes.

But under-40 CEOs aren’t unheard of. Some of the world’s most recognizable companies are or were helmed by relative youngsters: Facebook, Google, and Microsoft were all at one time (or still are) led by someone or someones young enough to carry student loan debt.

What can the rest of us learn from these precocious corporate leaders? Plenty. Even if you’re not likely to find yourself in a position to lead a major company before the age of 40 — or have no interest in that kind of responsibility — these tips could still help your career in a big way.

1. Be Unafraid to Say “I Don’t Know”

You don’t have all the answers. Why pretend otherwise?

Here’s the thing: A willingness to admit that you don’t know everything is actually a mark of quiet strength, and of confidence in your ability to find solutions to unfamiliar problems. That’s true leadership, not blustering your way through every obstacle.

2. Bring a Transformative Mindset to Your Work

Think big, act big, deliver big — and shut down those who insist that’s just not how things are done. In other words, take cues from transformational young leaders like Majestic Steel USA president and CEO Todd Leebow, who’s taken less than a decade to turn his company into a model for other steel service centers and reimagine what’s possible in a tradition-bound industry.

3. Listen More Than You Speak (To Start)

You’ve heard this one before. True leaders listen — really listen — to associates’ concerns. Only when you have enough information to reach an informed decision do you need to make your position known.

4. Be Visible and Accessible

Sure, that big corner office is a choice perk of leadership. Just don’t hide in it. Remember the people to whom you owe your job — your rank-and-file workforce. Without their confidence, you won’t achieve everything you’ve set out to.

5. Give Your Employees the Autonomy They Deserve

Your employees don’t just want to see you making the rounds. They also want to feel that they have your respect. Increasing their day-to-day autonomy and independent decision-making authority is an easy way to convey that you believe in them (and keep them happy).

6. Invest in Benefits Employees Actually Want

All workers deserve a baseline of support from their employers, and you’re no doubt watching your competitors to ensure you’re not being left behind in the benefits department. Beyond basic benefits like health insurance and paid time off, performance-based incentives demonstrate your commitment to excellence and help define your identity as a leader.

7. Don’t Shy From the Spotlight (But Don’t Crowd Out Others, Either)

Upper managers, and CEOs in particular, are integral to an organization’s public image. As a leader, you have an obligation to step out and represent your team, your shareholders, your culture. Just don’t forget those behind you — if an associate deserves credit for a win, make sure the world knows it.

8. Be Accountable, Even When It Hurts

With publicity comes public accountability. If you’re not willing to take responsibility for good news and bad, you may not have what it takes to lead your organization through challenging times. Great leaders find a way to persevere, even if there’s pain to be had in the interim.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race? Maybe.

It’s often said that “slow and steady wins the race.” Maybe, but what about the early bird who gets the worm? Or the early riser whose fastidious habits make her healthy, wealthy, and wise?

The truth is, there’s no one path to the top of the corporate heap. Some folks reach the C-suite at the tail end of their careers, capping off a deliberate rise to the top. Others rise rapidly through some combination of talent, hard work, and luck.

Whichever boat you’re in, you could certainly learn a thing or two from those on the latter path. While those lessons alone might not land you in the C-suite before your time, they could give your career the boost it needs to get you there in due time.