Myth Busters: Five myths of being a successful executive

Lessons Learned_Alex ShootmanThroughout your career, you’ll accumulate more “advice” than you’ll know what to do with:

“It’s all about who you know.”

“Pursue your passions and the money will follow.”

“Be really, really good at one skill.”

Or, my favorite, “Success is inherited.”

As much as I want to say that the road to the “top” is smooth and glamorous—it might be just the opposite. Most folks assume executives become successful because of luck, inheritance or by being exceptional at one thing. But I’m here to tell you the road to becoming a successful executive starts from the very beginning of your career, and the hard work never really stops.

There are plenty of misconceptions with being an executive or a leader, but here are the top five I’ve witnessed throughout my career:

1. You have to be perfect. All humans are flawed, and to some degree it can be difficult to follow someone who is “perfect.” People would rather know their leaders are human and willing to admit to not knowing something or making a mistake.

2. Your people have to like you. They don’t. That does not mean you need to be a jerk, but your people need to be successful. And to be successful sometimes you have to ask them to do things that in the moment may cause them not to like you. But you can do this if you genuinely have their self-interest in mind.

3. You can communicate the plan too often. Seven times, seven ways. Every time I think I am wearing people out by repeating myself, someone will ask a question that makes me realize that something I thought I said too many times is still not known or understood.

4. You control how others perceive you. When leading groups of people, there will inevitably be false ideas circulating about who you are and what you stand for. Unless there is something radically incorrect, don’t spend your time fighting or trying to control what other people might say or think.

5. You live a glamorous life. You don’t. At least not in the way most people think. There are days where you’re stuffing a scorching Hot Pocket in your mouth five minutes before a big customer call you have to take, hoping the office breakroom Tide-to-Go pen isn’t empty again. You are going to land in a foreign city at 1 a.m. and stay in a grubby hotel missing a gym or better yet, a coffee maker. You are going to wake up before your family early on a Saturday morning and sneak the work in before they notice. But everyone will think that you are living the high life each and every day.

While there are plenty of misconceptions of being a successful leader, one thing holds true: It takes work, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

One of the most important things I have learned is that you must know why you want to lead and must know who you are before anything else. You can’t lead anyone until you can lead yourself.

As president and CEO of Workfront, Alex Shootman drives the overall strategy, vision and execution for the company, ensuring that Workfront is a dedicated partner in helping its customers transform the work experience. Shootman brings more than 25 years of experience in all areas of revenue and profit generation for technology organizations, with significant experience leading SaaS-based companies. In his free time, Shootman can usually be found trying to convince his legs that they really don’t hurt on a road bike or running trail, admiring the view from a 14er in Colorado, or down on a reef in his home state of Hawaii. That is if his four kids leave him any free time.

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