By: Christina Desmarais
The most successful people achieve extraordinary things by looking at the world differently than most people.
Paula Long would know. Before becoming CEO of data management company DataGravity, she sold her last company, EqualLogic, to Dell for $1.4 billion.
Here’s her take on the thought lives of the most successful leaders:
They have a clarity of vision.
Long says you would never know if she was insecure and guessing — swirling 25 scenarios in her head about how something will progress — because she consistently speaks to the ideal outcome. “So it’s be honest, but filter and show the direction,” she says. “That gives people a sense of certainty which I think everybody around you needs, including you.”
They always plan their next few moves.
It’s thinking about life as a chess game based upon possible outcomes. “So if this happens I’m going to do this, but if this happens I’m going to do that,” she says. “You’ve already thought it through.”
They think of employees and themselves as subcontractors to each other.
It’s a way of holding people accountable for their performance versus basing relationships with team members on friendship. “If you hired a painter and they didn’t show up or didn’t finish the painting the rooms in five days, you’d probably fire them, right?” she says. It’s not to say you can’t be friends with co-workers, but it shouldn’t lead you to cover for them if they’re not performing well.
They understand that lack of failure is not success.
In other words, good enough is not good enough. Could you have done better? “They’re always trying to figure out how to optimize the optimized, which can drive people nuts,” she says. “Because is anything ever good enough? No. It sounds bad, but it just means we have to keep growing.”
They don’t tolerate drama.
It means hiring for culture and fit — not just skills — so you end up with a cohesive team. “You can lose a lot of emotional energy which sucks away intellectual energy,” she says. “And that’s a really easy thing to have happen to you.”
They’re comfortable and confident dealing with all functions within a company.
“Successful leaders let people know in subtle ways that they know what’s going on,” she says. Within a day it might mean asking an engineer about a project or sending a note to someone in marketing who just wrote an excellent blog. “That gets harder as companies gets bigger, but for small companies showing that kind of personal interest and kind of encouragement is important.”
They have a hard time with work-life balance.
High achievers tend to overwork, particularly in a startup where a leader can be obsessed with getting off the ground and growing. The key, however, is not expecting everyone to work weekends just because it’s something you want to do. If you’re not careful, people will burn out, or worse. “I’ve been in a couple of startups where people would claim they got divorced because of work,” she says. “That means everybody around them failed, too, because they didn’t figure out how to get the balance right.”