Leading a company may seem like one of the most glamorous jobs in the world, but it is by no means the easiest. There are several hurdles that business owners and CEOs need to tackle every single day (including weekends and holidays). These include not just internal matters such as office organisation and assignment and sharing of responsibilities, but also external factors, such as the company’s image, relationships with clients and vendors and ongoing competition with company rivals. As such, being a CEO requires more than just skill in leading people.
Jane McKellar, one of the most notable female CEOs for today’s generation, has helped numerous companies around the world not only improve and boost their operations but also jumpstart companies that are struggling to make a name in the corporate world or even those that have already become stagnant. She is best known for her work with Elizabeth Arden Australia, where she organised what has been awarded as the “Launch of the Year” by media agency AdNews. Ms. McKellar has also served senior level roles in companies such as Unilever, Microsoft’s MSN Australia, Stila Corporation and Callanish Interests Pty Ltd, as well as non-executive directorships in Clarisonic, Terraplanet, KUSP and Ebet.com.au.
According to Ms. McKellar, one of the top qualities of a successful CEO is commitment to learning. This capacity to learn does not involve just the ins and outs of their own respective industries, but also about competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, the qualities of the target market and the key features of their vendors that can be used to improve sales. Ms. McKellar steadfastly subscribes to the philosophies offered in Sun Tzu’s war treatise, The Art of War, and applies the leadership strategies presented in this book on her business ventures. In The Art of War, the importance of learning in success is emphasised in this simple passage: “If you know your enemy and you know yourself, your victory will not be threatened. If you know the terrain and know the weather, the victory is inexhaustible.”
In addition to commitment to constant learning, Ms. McKellar shares another key quality of successful CEOs: adaptability. She states that while learning allows business owners to create plans and strategies that have a very high chance of success, the truth is that the success of such “fool-proof” plans is only guaranteed in theory, and that the business landscape is very unpredictable. A more sensible plan, she states, is one that allows room to accommodate unforeseen factors that can later on change the course of business.
However, these aforementioned qualities — the capacity to learn and adaptability — are useless without the wisdom to know when changes need to be implemented, which according to Jane McKellar is the last important trait of an effective leader. She shares that hard work and discipline are indeed important, but it’s even more crucial to recognise when these are no longer enough and change is needed.