The Leap to Leader

What does it mean to lead?

  • It is a realization that you are fully accountable and must grapple with the hardest decisions.
  • It means letting go of doing the work that earned you promotion after promotion earlier in your career.
  • It means writing the playbook for your job, rather than running the playbook that your bosses hand you.
  • It means imagining what could and should be, rather than delivering on expected outcomes.
  • It is about understanding that leadership is not a popularity contest, and that earning people’s respect matters more than having them like you.
  • It means setting a compass for a new direction and letting others create the road map for executing the plan.
  • It means unlocking the potential in people that they may not even see for themselves.
  • It is about giving credit to others and taking blame when things go wrong.
  • It means always doing what is best for the organization, even if that requires letting go of valued colleagues.
  • It is about having the courage to take a stand, even if it costs you your job.
  • It means thinking first about what you can do for people, rather than what they can do for you.
  • It is about building other leaders, not just followers.

It started with a simple idea: What if I interviewed CEOs and other leaders and never asked them a single question about their companies? That “what if” led to more than 1,000 in-depth interviews about their key leadership lessons—in the “Corner Office” column I created for The New York Times and now on LinkedIn—as well as four books that capture the clear patterns that emerged from all those conversations.

My latest book is The Leap to Leader: How Ambitious Managers Make the Jump to Leadership, published by Harvard Business Review Press. This book is meant to be a companion to my most recent book, The CEO Test: Master the Challenges that Make or Break All Leaders, which Harvard Business Review Press published in 2021. The Leap to Leader is about how to become a leader, and The CEO Test is about what you need to do in those roles to succeed as a leader. There are no cookie-cutter formulas, and everyone must chart their own path to leadership, given that it requires so much interior work, including wrestling with who we want to be and become as a leader.

There are infinite complexities to leadership, and for the past dozen years, I have taken a journalistic approach to better understanding them. After a 30-year career in journalism, including 18 years at the New York Times, I joined The ExCo Group as senior managing director in 2017. We’re a senior leadership development and executive mentoring firm, with a deep bench of mentors who are former CEOs or global business leaders. And I’m continuing to interview leaders on LinkedIn, where you can find my four widely read series with CEOsboard directors, chief human resources officers and prominent Black executives.

Leadership is hard, and those who do it well can lift their teams and organizations. My goal is to share those insights with readers and audiences to help elevate their leadership skills.