Advice to a New CEO (or to Any Leader)

If you follow my blog, you know that yesterday the board of Thomas Nelson promoted Mark Schoenwald to the the position of President and Chief Executive Officer. Though I will remain as the company’s Chairman, I have stepped away from active management after six years at the helm. I want to pursue my writing, speaking, and other business interests.

One Rock Climber Helping Another - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #9571360

Photo courtesy of ©

Almost immediately after this announcement, several of my readers asked, “Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to a new CEO?” This is a great question, and I would offer seven truths:

  1. Your position is a role not your identity. I know a CEO who retired several years ago. On the day after he stepped down, he innocently asked a friend, “If I am not the CEO, then who am I?” Let me tell you, you better have this figured out long before your exit. Your title represents one aspect of your life, not the whole of it.
  2. Your position is temporary not permanent. According to numerous studies, the average tenure of a CEO is 5–6 years. Anything beyond that is a bonus. You may think you will last forever. You won’t. There will come a time when you step away or step down. Embrace that fact and plan for it. It will create the sense of urgency and focus you need to succeed.
  3. Your position is a privilege not a right. You have likely arrived at this spot through a combination of talent, hard work, and timing. This doesn’t entitle you to anything. Being a CEO is an e enormous privilege—a gift—that few people will ever know. Never take it for granted. Hold it with an open hand.
  4. Your position is about faithfulness not achievement. I came into my role with specific plans about what I wanted to achieve. I had enormous dreams—grandiose in retrospect. Then the Great Recession hit. The story took a completely different turn. The mission changed. Suddenly, it became clear to me that being faithful in the midst of adversity was the most important thing I could do.
  5. Your position is about them not you. The world has more than enough narcissistic leaders. It doesn’t need one more. Being a CEO is not about you. It is about them—the people you have been called to serve. This includes your employees, your customers, and your investors. And, yes, I put them in that specific order. Happy employees make for happy customers. Happy customers make for happy investors. And happy investors make for happy CEOs.
  6. Your position is about stewardship not ownership. Being a steward is different than being an owner. As a Christian, I believe that God owns it all. I am merely a steward. Based on that belief, CEOs—even if they don’t believe in God—have an ultimate accountability to Him. In other words, they hold what they have on behalf of someone else. If not God, then the board. If not the board, then their children. If not their children, then posterity. Someone is counting on you to come through for them.
  7. Your position will require more than you can provide on your own. I have felt inadequate with every new promotion I’ve ever received. But none more than when I became the CEO of Thomas Nelson. Other CEOs that I know have expressed the same sentiment. The realization that you are responsible for the the welfare of hundreds—or perhaps thousands—of employees and their families is overwhelming. But this healthy sense of inadequacy is the very thing you need to remain humble, teachable, and open to counsel.

There’s one last thing I would say to new CEOs: take care of yourself. Make your spiritual, emotional, and physical health a priority. During your tenure, you will experience more stress than you can imagine. You need all the resources you can muster. You will be tempted to put yourself last. But if you die of a heart attack, burnout emotionally, or lose your faith in God, you will be of no use to anyone.

By the way, the reason I am so confident in Mark Schoenwald’s leadership of Thomas Nelson is because I believe he exemplifies all seven of these truths. We are blessed to have him at the helm.

Question: What advice would you give to new CEOs, even if you have never been one? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Anonymous

    I really like this. I think you could broaden it to anyone position really. If we all acted with this advice in mind in any position…business would be a far different animal don’t you think?

    The bit I like the most is about “its about them not you”. How can you support those around you and working for you better? That is a great question to continually ask.

    Thanks Mr. Hyatt.

    • Michael Hyatt

      It really does apply to any role, being a parent, being a spouse, being a worker—you name it. Good point.

      • kerrydexter

        indeed, it applies to working indpendently as well, especially points six and seven and your advice about taking care of yourself.

    • Michael Hyatt

      It really does apply to any role, being a parent, being a spouse, being a worker—you name it. Good point.

  • Patricia Zell

    My advice is: 1.) have an open mind–sometimes the best ideas come from the least expected places, 2.) take time to think things through even when you’re being pushed to act now, and 3.) be able to laugh at yourself–when situations are tense, humorous comments about yourself can calm the seas.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Great advice, Patricia. I especially agree with your first point.

    • Jeff Randleman

      I’ve had to re-learn #3 numerous times!

      • Steven Cribbs

        Totally identify. If we live with the mantle of having to be perfect, we won’t last. If we can laugh at ourselves – even through the failures – we can be so much more effective as a leader.

    • Joe Lalonde

      That’s some good advice Patricia!

  • GailHyatt

    Good stuff.

    #8. Have your family on your team. You’ll need lots of support.

    • Jon Dale

      Mike and Gail,

      Amy and I love you two. So excited for you both in this next season. And Mike, I’m super proud of you.


      • Michael Hyatt

        Thanks, Jon. I couldn’t tell you last week when we talked, but that’s why I mentioned that I thought my schedule would open up soon. ;-)

        Love you, too!

      • GailHyatt

        Thanks Jon. I’m really looking forward to hanging some more with you and Amy.

    • Michael Hyatt

      You are the best example of this that I know, Gail Hyatt. That’s another think I like about Mark Schoenwald—he has a great, supportive wife in Terri. As a CEO, sometimes your spouse is the only person on the planet you can talk to. You have been my partner through all of this!

      • Anonymous

        You two are such an inspiration!

  • Cyberquill

    Some retired CEO seriously asked, ““If I am not the CEO, then who am I?” I find that very hard to believe. It would be really funny if he’d been the CEO of a company that published spiritual self-improvement literature.

    • Michael Hyatt

      It was very sad, but mostly because he didn’t get who bizarre the question was. Unfortunately, I think he was only giving voice to what do many others believe—that they are their role.

      • Cyberquill

        Hmm. Interesting. It’s just that I would assume that by the time we were fifteen years old, all of us must have heard or read a gazillion times that it is a fallacy to confuse ourselves with our roles. Something about this question sounds very … I don’t know … soapy.

        Speaking of television, every time Lis Wiehl is on the O’Reilly Factor, O’Reilly plugs her new Nelson novel. I suppose that’s what you call an author having a platform.

        • Joe Lalonde

          Cyberquill, I think I have to disagree with that. A lot of people get caught up in what they do and not who they are. We tend to identify ourselves with our jobs. When meeting someone for the first time, we normally ask a question such as “what do you do?” not “who are you, what makes you alive”?

          • Cyberquill

            Exactly, which is why I would expect that, upon being divorced from a career or a particular position within a career, someone might ask, “What am I supposed to do now?” or “What am I gonna do now?” or to lament that suddenly there’s this void in his life he doesn’t know how to fill. If I were editing a movie script and came across the line, “If I’m not the CEO, then who am I?” I would cross it out and tell the writer to change it because it sounds too contrived. People don’t suddenly ask themselves “who” they are, least of all the CEO type of person. If something happens that breaks their routine, they’ll ask what to do now.

            I would think that everybody is at least tangentially familiar with the spiritually-correct response to the self-reflective “who” question, about the multiple roles we all play in life and about who we’re not supposed to confuse our essence with our work, yada-yada-yada. And if someone had been living under the proverbial rock as far as run-of-the-mill self-improvement lore and has never even come across a Tony Robbins infomercial, I can’t image it would even occur to them to ask “who am I?” in the first place.

          • Anonymous

            To be aware that this is wrong thinking spiritually is a very good thing. However, I’m a woman and I still had way over-identified with my position of leadership within a ministry. When I knew the Lord was leading me to step down, it was still a very difficult process. I have to admit I went kicking and screaming (not literally, but in my heart!) and experienced grief and somewhat of an identity crisis. Call me crazy or immature…but my experience wasn’t contrived. And I did ask, if I’m not the _____ in this ministry, then who am I? God used the experience in a very powerful way. He taught me that my identity was absolutely in Him, not in my temporary assignment. I already believed that on some level, but help me in my unbelief?

          • Cyberquill

            You were a leader in a ministry, i.e., in a field that’s of a spiritual nature to begin with, and the question who you were—and by extension, who we are as people (“God’s children”) in general—had never occurred to you before? You read the Bible, you went to church, you worked in a ministry, you followed God’s leadership hither and yon, and then, after all of this, one day you suddenly went, “Oops, who am I?”

            My intent is not to be “snarky,” and I apologize if I have a tendency to come across as such. Part of my charm. But as the detective in Hitchcock’s Psycho so aptly puts it, “If it doesn’t gel, it ain’t Jell-o.” (Or something like that.)

      • Gail

        That is so true – especially for men, who can have a huge part of their identity wrapped up in their career. Not knowing who they are outside their role is one reason people will choose to stay in a job they hate and shouldn’t be in because they fear not knowing who they are outside that role. It is very sad.

        • Steven Cribbs

          I think this is a big part of our world. Even men that have it “figured out” can still struggle with distinguishing who they are from what they do. When a man does not have that significant role to identify with, it is easy to feel like he is sub-man (less than what he is supposed to be). I would even venture to say it is similar to the connection between women and motherhood.

          • Gail

            From what I’ve read and observed it is the same connection as between women and their homes and their families. What they do at home (house and family) and how that is perceived by others is similar to men and their careers.

            Being aware of these 2 tendancies allows the individual to check where their identity is but also to be respectful of where others identity may be anchored.

  • Doug Hibbard

    Be able to laugh at yourself is a good piece of advice. Be careful not to internalize the criticism: you are seeking the best for your employees, your customers, your investors: there will be criticisms and it will sound personal. It may be personal, but don’t take it in too strongly

    • Michael Hyatt

      I couldn’t agree more. That has really helped me, especially when I have been criticized.

  • Marsha Young

    Those are excellent principles! When I “lived in a corner office” I actively embraced the servant-leader role. It was not about what I could get out of my position, but about what I could give to the organization and my colleagues that mattered most.

    When I was ready to walk away, I did so with a peaceful heart and a clean conscience.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Good for you!

  • Brent Trickett

    Thanks Michael, as someone stepping into a new leadership role this is very timely. One thing I think leaders need to to know especially if they have just been appointed is that there usually will be opposition from people for all kinds of reasons. I just read through the book of numbers and was once again struck by how many times the people grumbled and rebelled.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yep, and as a leader, you have to decide whether you are going to let the people affect you or you are going to affect them. Being aware of what is happening is half the battle.

  • Renee

    Your last thing “… take care of yourself. Make your spiritual, emotional, and physical health a priority.” could have been at the top of the list. If our tanks aren’t full, then we have nothing to contribute. It’s something each and everyone of us is being called to do—as CEO of our life.

    I first learned about taking care of myself (in my early 50s) when I took the course “Celebrating Women: Regarding Ecstasy & Power™ (aka “Queen Course”)” by Alison Armstrong. One of the assignments was to list 10 things which would fill my tanks and allow myself to be in the place of generosity. Most of the women were done quickly. My paper remained blank—my whole being was sad and empty. As a PK (preachers kid) I had been trained to serve others and anything less was a selfish sin. It was the catalyst needed to begin to choose differently.

    Mahalo for posting in the evening your time. Your uplifting and thought provoking posts now show up at 1pm rather than 1am. :-)

    • Michael Hyatt

      I have heard this same testimony from a lot of preachers’ kids. It probably afflicts many people in the helping professions. Thanks!

    • Jeff Randleman

      Taking care of yourself is critical for people in ministry! So much of the time, we give, give, give. If we’re not refueling our spiritual tanks as well, we can only give so much. Great reminder!

  • John Richardson

    One thing I would say is to get to know your people well. Find out what the people actually doing the work are like and what their issues are. That’s what I really admire about you, Michael. You’ve always had an open communication line open via Twitter and your blog. I’ve know way too many leaders that have never been in the shop, but instead rely on other people to tell them what is going on. Actually shaking hands and getting to know people is really important.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, John. I’ll tell you who is the best I have ever seen at that—way better than I—is Mark Schoenwald. We went together today to our Live Events office in Plano, Texas, where we have about 90 employees. We want to make the announcement to them together, just so they could see that we were both enthusiastic about this. The first thing Mark did was walk in the room and walk up to every person and introduce himself. He is awesome!

    • Steven Cribbs

      Reminds me of a conversation on here a while back about “seeing into people” instead of “seeing past people”. I agree with you, a great leader will take the time to see into and know his people.

  • Ladyketo

    Last night I spoke with my cousin on the phone for a long time and we were both lamenting the fact that we rush from responsibility to responsibility, function to function, said ‘yes’ to everything because we don’t want to let people down and find it hard to carve out time to rest. We then made the observation that we were both applying poor leadership to our lives. No one was getting the best of us, we were stretched too thin, trying to please everyone and not thinking about future consequences. The stewardship insight is so crucial in terms of effectively managing what we contribute and how we learn the art of ‘sabbath’. Thanks for this.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Good for you for pursuing Sabbath rest. God has set up a rhythm because that is what is best for us.

    • Jeff Randleman

      I agree. I’ve recently made Sabbath a higher priority in my life and family. So beneficial!

  • Leah Adams

    I think these pieces of advice are appropriate to more than just CEOs. I think that those of us in ministry would do well to ponder them. I would add that finding an accountability partner to hold you accountable might be a wise move. It is a good reminder that no one is king of the world except God. I would also advise to pray…a lot….then listen for God to speak.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I thought specifically about applying this to pastors. I think it is very parallel.

      • Jeff Randleman

        I agree!

  • brad

    I love your #7 point. Too often we see that as a threat rather than a promise. In a leadership role, you *get* to collaborate, deploy the whole team, beg for grace and invite diverse perspectives. You don’t just have to (and if you try not to you find out just how deep that imperative goes). You get to!

  • David McCleve

    Regarding the sense of inadequacy, I believe that #6 should help compensate. Winston Churchill wrote in “The Gathering Storm” that he had a “sense of relief,” not inadequacy, that he was “sure [he] would not fail when he became Prime Minister as Britain really entered World War II. #6 explains that we are stewards – if you are doing God’s work, then God will compensate for any inadequacy you feel. As a result, you can feel as confident as Churchill whenever you are given immense responsibility.

  • Deb Ingino

    What great advice for all of us each and every day of our lives!

  • Billebob

    Great post… usual. I sincerely suggest you consider writing a leadership book geared towards executives. I have come to love your blogs (and I only started reading them recently) and believe they transcend industries.

    Thanks for fulfilling your calling!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your kind words. I am thinking about that, in fact.

      • Pckaufma

        A leadership book by Michael Hyatt would be great. I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

        What I would love even more is some sort of collaborative project with a handful of brilliant mentors and mentees. E.g., put a Michael Hyatt, a Scott Eblin, and say, a Tim Sanders (oh and Nancy Duarte would be great in something like this) in a room and just roll the tape.

        Next, get some of each superstar’s mentees in the room and have the mentees talk about lessons. I’d love to hear the other mentors react/celebrate/analyze another’s mentees experiences. So, Eblin, Sanders, Duarte would react to/comment upon the experiences of Hyatt’s mentees.

        Whoa – that would be a ton of work to put together. If only there was someone who knew something about packaging great content for folks who already have a great platform who also recently left his day job… ;)

    • GailHyatt

      Good suggestion, Bill. He should talk to his “manager” about this. :-)

  • Jeff Randleman

    Great advise, whether you’re a CEO or not. As a minister in the local church, I see striking parallels in my role as well as your role as CEO. Thanks for the insights!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I saw that parallel, too. I figured people like you would figure out the application. ;-)

      • Jeff Randleman

        Thanks for thinking of us!

  • Amelia

    Congratulations on your new journey, and an office from home! I look forward to hearing about this next phase and seeing where God leads you. I too, appreciate your leadership thoughts and the humility you bring to the leadership realm.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Amelia. I plan to blog about my transition and journey. I love learning new stuff!

  • Mark

    Wisest advice I believe I’ve ever read. Encouraged me immensely! I’m a marriage and family therapist. You’d think I would know better.

  • Daniel Decker

    Wow. Outstanding post. These 7 “truths” are very well put. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, becoming a CEO is one of those things I haven’t even considered.

    How is the transition from Peer to Leader at that level? Is that difficult to navigate? I assume you were a VP then became CEO.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I was a VP, EVP, and then COO. It is not difficult at all, particularly if you keep in mind the servant leadership model.

  • Live with Flair

    My advice? Treat every person you meet as if they were CEO. Great leaders recognize the dignity and unique contribution of every voice in the room.

  • Terry Lange

    The people in the “cubicle farms” know more than you think… Listen to them once in a while and you might learn something.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That is GREAT advice—and so true! Thanks.

  • Travis Dommert

    I’ve been in a discussion on LinkedIn this week on Servant Leadership. In these 7 points, you’ve NAILED IT. I will share this with the group…thank you!!

    Here’s to being fruitful and salty!

  • @drdwill

    I have enjoyed reading your blog. This is a very timely post. I have just finished reading a chapter on leadership in my textbook! I am a pharmacist of 11 yrs and I have returned to school this semester to earn my MBA/MHA. Thank you for sharing your insight. I wish you success in your future endeavors.

  • Anonymous

    Great advice Michael. This is something that needs to be remembered for anyone that is even thinking about a leadership role. Even if you aren’t in that position yet. (That is how you EARN it.)

  • Gail

    I read recently that if most employee didn’t turn up to work, customers and other staff would notice as their day would be hugely impacted, yet if the CEO didn’t turn up to work no one would notice as it would be business as usual.

    Any leader, CEO or not, should be someone that is missed when they are not there. This doesn’t mean you have to act like you’re indespensible, because you’re not, but be sure that what you do and who you are makes a difference to the people you lead.

    I know that the people I lead miss me when I’m not there, but I also know they can do a terrific job without me, but I can make their work easier and their day better but being a visible, impacting part of their day.

  • Schmid Andreas

    thanks michael! that is just great… i just started my new job as a youth-pastor and inputs like that are a tremendous help!

  • David Santistevan

    I would recommend any CEO reading Michael Hyatt’s blog. Daily inspiration for the daily challenge. Sounds like a new tagline :)

  • Ben

    Great article! Very informative. You’ve shown again that you’re a great leader, mentor and coach. Continue to use your God given talent through your writing to encourage and build up your readers. God bless you.

  • nanpiland

    I would have to add that you should take compliments and criticism to heart but don’t take it personally. Sometimes you have to make tough and unfavorable decision. That is what you were hired to do.

  • Tom Roepke

    great honest and true wisdom. one thought i’ve got to add…and its probably just a simple paraphrase of what you’ve said…don’t take yourself too seriously.

  • David Sylvester

    Here is some advice that my dad gave me:

    1. Walk the shop at every opportunity. At first, it’s a way to learn a lot about the
    company that you don’t get on paper. Talk to the work force, learn their names,
    show you’re interested in them as individuals. Over time you can use your walks
    to gauge the morale of the work force, measure the conditions in the work place,
    and let the supervisors know that you understand what’s going on in their areas.

    2. Keep the lines of communication open on 3 levels: between you and your board,
    between you and your immediate subordinates, and between you and the rank and
    file. People like to know what’s going on and particularly what will affect them.
    Lack of communication is one of the major reasons why organizations don’t live
    up to their expectations.

    3. Encourage participative management. People who work the problems every day
    often have the best ideas for how to build a better mousetrap. Ask subordinates to
    put together integrated teams to tackle particularly thorny problems.

    4. Integrity. This should be # 1 on the list, at all levels. Let the whole company know
    that this is # 1 and back it up with setting the example. Be intolerant of any
    breaches of integrity.

    5. Be consistent. It’s a good way to gain trust and respect. Nobody likes to be kept
    off balance.

    6. Be firm but fair. Sometimes you have to be tough, but never arbitrary.

    7. Praise in public; rebuke in private. In my travels around industry I found this
    cardinal rule often violated. Think of the embarrassment of being chewed out in
    front of a lot of people. It’s painful to watch, is counterproductive, and totally
    unnecessary. Good leaders don’t do it.

    8. Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. Trust your subordinates or replace them.

    9. Learn to prioritize your tasks. Not every one is of equal importance. Some can be
    put off until tomorrow. Some can be delegated to someone else. And some only
    you can do. I once had a boss in the Pentagon who didn’t prioritize. He put in 80-
    hour weeks, every week.

    10. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know. I used to get engineers to
    come and tutor me on technical subjects that I didn’t understand. It worked.

    11. Groom your subordinates for bigger things. Everyone needs to grow. And
    someday you may want to tum over the reins to one of them.

    12. Don’t play favorites. It can be very destructive of morale.

    13. They say that the devil is in the details, and often that is true. You can get to the
    heart of the details without micromanaging.

    14. Be willing to listen.

    15. Plan ahead, both in your personal schedule and for the company. The planning
    function needs to be in the mainstream, not an off-line frill.

    16. Encourage and participate in company-wide social functions. They are a great
    way to develop company spirit. Let everyone know that attendance is part of the
    fun of working for the company.

    17. Take time to smell the roses and insist that others do as well. Of all my
    expressions, this is the one that my “troops” most often quoted back to me.

    • Michael Hyatt

      This is excellent. It could be an entire blog post in itself! Thank you.

    • Richard Hartian

      What a great list – thanks for taking the time to be detailed…#7 would be my personal favorite on your list…so very true

  • TomGrey

    Thanks, Michael. I’d add:
    Top management should only promote rules of behavior that they themselves are willing to follow — in fact, that they already follow.

    Too much organization rot starts at the top, be it thru mission, vision, job descriptions, or Standard Operating Procedures — which the top managers can violate with impunity.

    Making jokes is also important, but I’m not so good at that.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree. In fact, I told my executive team early in my tenure, “If you want to change the culture of an organization culture, simply change the behavior of its leaders” (quoting Larry Bossidy). It is so true!

  • Gary

    Thanks for asking , even if it is a bit presumptious to answer. I would hope all leaders, CEO’s and others, would listen more; to their people, trusted advisors and their own intuition. Not every correct answer is found on a spread sheet, or somewhere else “in the data”.

  • Bruce Munnings

    Enjoyed reading this blog. Thank you.

    I was thinking recently about the different aspects of leadership that Jesus showed. The last aspect of leadership I was thinking about was that He left His followers to get on with the job themselves.

  • Flowsource

    “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.”1 Kings 12:7

    • Michael Hyatt

      That is a great verse. What is really sad is that that king didn’t follow it. He paid a dear price.

  • Scott Lehman

    Really well stated Michael. I pray the Lord’s blessings on the new chapter of your life.

  • Mario

    Dear Michael, I really enjoyed this blog. I’m a student from Germany and major in Business Administration and have been following your blog for quite a while. By reading your blogs, John Maxwells books, ect. a thing that often came up is truht no. 5 “Your position is about them, not you”. So far I didn’t really get it :) I would really appreciate if you could write more about that and share from you experience. Thanks!

  • Beccah Canada

    Thank you for sharing this! My current boss just received a promotion, and has been my manager for 7 years. I think I have gone through all of the stages of grief and I am ready for a great new manager.
    This post could not have come at a better time.
    I shared this on FB and I will definitely share it on twitter as well.
    I know your role in your this world is only going to expand, and I am excited you not only get to stay home with Gail, but that you love the one you are with!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Beccah. I love it when the timing works like that!

  • Jeremy @ CofaL

    You keep reminding me that it is not about me. My ego is suffering by reading your blog.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Sorry about that. ;-)

    • Scoti Springfield Domeij


  • jm24

    This is really awesome advice. Truly we tend to forget that any leadership position is in place for the people, and not for personal ambitions.

  • Mark Martin

    I’ve been learning #4. Long term difference making is the goal. Focusing on the long-term vs. the urgent provides an atmosphere where people can grow over the long haul.

    Thank you for sharing these truths.

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  • Yvonne

    Remember, you will also live in a fish bowl. Integrity in decision making both in the role and out of the role are crucial to not only keeping the company strong but will leave you with peace at the end of the day and at the end of your role. You and your employees are one unit — as is the head so is the body. Blessings

  • Barbara Thayer

    Excellent set of principles to live by. We can take ourselves much too seriously and lose sight of our goals, our own life, and those we serve. My father-in-law who was a general manager of a successful radio station used to tell me that no one is irreplaceable. Someone with more skill or talent can always come along so we have to keep our sense of balance and purpose with our feet solidly on the ground. Thank you for sharing this!

  • Calummmaclean

    Mr Hyatt. I have followed your blog for about 3 years now and am very familiar with Thomas Nelson.
    You have done remarkable work and are a constant source of inspiration to me.
    I look forward to watching what you do next and following your blog for many more years.

    As for advice for CEO’s; pray on it, have trusted go to people from outside your org you admire and follow your heart.


  • Sue

    Great advice. I would add:

    I think it is important first in accepting the role of CEO that you embrace fully the vision/mission of the business or organization. Hopefully God has put it on your heart that it is His vision for this organization.

    Then it is just as important that the CEO casts the vision to everyone that is in or around the organization over and over and over again. Is what we are doing in line with the vision? Your department helped the vision by…. We are starting this new vision because it supports our vision to…

    If the leader of the organization isn’t fully aware and committed to the vision, you aren’t leading people anywhere. We all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Make disciples for the God given vision of your organization.

  • Shurmon Clarke

    I have recently started to follow your blog and I am blessed to have found this resource. I am a lab Supervior and Ministry Leader in the Bahamas and this post is so helpful to me, sometimes I get overwhelmed by the challenges and dissappointments and I forget that these positions of leadership are not what I am. I also get so consumed that I do not take care of me as I should. Thanks for the knowledge and insight, I am so blessed by this. Thanks

  • Steve

    Mike this is some of the best advice I have ever read. If I had the time I would exposit each of your points I would, but #7 is perhaps one of the least followed priciples out there. Too many leaders pay lip service to delegation and empowerment. The ones who actually embrace it are the ones that are the most fulfilled and effective. Bravo and congrats on your transition.

  • Uma Maheswaran S

    My add-ons to the list:

    — Create an environment where people focus on the larger good
    — Encourage people to challenge the status quo
    — Inspire people to achieve high levels of customer satisfaction

  • Jim Whitaker

    Great stuff and as your title implies this is not just good for CEOs but any leaders. Yet I would contend that it is something that applies to anyone in any role. I know that in the beginning of being in the workforce that I all too often let my position be my identity and not my role. It consumed me and made life difficult, it was not until a life changing experience reading the 7 Habits and recognizing the difference in a role versus my identity that I was able to overcome that and move on into a more positive direction. I think that we often get this messed up in the church. We see a minister and often think that the title on them makes then something more than human and we miss that they are a person just like us that needs help and struggles with the same things that we struggle with. I would also argue that in today’s world all jobs are more temporal than before. With companies always looking to become more efficient and effective no one’s job is ever really secured. All jobs we have is a privilege not a right. Work is not a guarantee. Work is something that you are privileged with due to the things that you have done before hand to prepare yourself for the work. Calvin said that our work is as much as a calling as any ministers calling and that we should do it diligently and joyfully. Mother Theresa never set out to achieve something in her work. She simple heard a calling from God and remained faithful to that calling even in the midst of doubts herself. We have to key our eye on the ball and be faithful to the work and not to any agenda that we have about putting another notch in the belt. You only need to look at Jesus as the example of for being in a leadership role that is about others versus oneself. Everything Jesus did was about saving humanity. He could have saved himself, used his power to coerce instead of using his actions to change a world. Stewardship is a reminder that you are given your role at work. It is given to you be people, a company, or by God, but in the end you are accountable to someone and you have to provide an account of your stewardship of the role you have. And I would also contend that all jobs require you to lean on others where it is in the company you work for or people outside of the company to support. Finally I would add that if you have a spouse and family, do not neglect them due to the job. Yes there will be times you have to travel and will be away from them and meetings that take you past the time you were supposed to leave to go home, but be intentional about setting aside time to spend with them. You will always be a husband, wife, father or mother, or whatever familiar unit you are, but you will not always be a CEO, leader or worker.

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  • Alice Sullivan

    This is great advice! I believe a necessary component of success (if not all of it) is that we remain humble and always look to serve others. In fact, I was just having a similar conversation with Josh Hood. Very timely.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Alice. I appreciate that.

  • Jimbomcnulty

    Employees first, and investors last? I think the only truly honest statement in this article was the one about ‘looking after yourself’. A rudimentary understanding of the history of corporate America reveals that, come hell, high water or financial crisis, the CEO ensures he never has to experience the reality he creates for others.

  • Ralph Stoever

    Congratulations Michael for this pro-active move.

    I particularly like the priorities expressed in this post of employees, customers and shareholders, in that order. I share your understanding of their causal relationships.

    Someone (I can’t remember) said the greatest thing you can do is to prepare your legacy. I admire your courage to do so. Though not a believer in your sense, I think I understand very well that we can only be stewards on this earth and will remember that notion too.

    Have you heard about the designer Sagemeister who closes his business and takes a sabbatical every 7th year?

    I am wondering whether stepping down after 6 years might be related to this concept?

    • Michael Hyatt

      It might be …

  • Janey Norbury

    I remember an old boss of mine, 20 years ago, who, every friday would walk the floors of our smallish company, in the UK and talk to as many people as he could, no matter what their rank and ask them what they had been working on that week. He and his wife went on to setup their own company DunnHumby, which went on to international success. It has been voted as one of the top 100 places to work in The Times (UK)

    He made you feel valued, you felt motivated by his interest in you personally and you made damn sure you had been working on something worthwhile to talk about. I am sure his philosophies contributed to the success of DunnHumby.

    As a CEO, or no matter at what level of management you get to, try to make time to listen, directly, to those working for you. They may have some good ideas which are not getting through the layers of management.

    Michael, I dip into you comments from time to time, always finding something interesting or inspirational to read. Lots of luck with the next chapter in your life.

  • Smoochagator

    This is great advice, especially the part about faithfulness vs. achievement and your emphasis on happy employees making for happy customers and a successful business. So often corporate leadership abuses their employees to serve a faceless bottom line and then are mystified as to why the company isn’t more successful.

    I am bookmarking this post and taking your advice to heart. Thanks!

  • Cynthia Herron

    Though I’ve never been a CEO (except in a MOM capacity) here’s my advice…Keep laughter tucked inside your coat pocket like you would a hanky. You never know when you’re going to need it, and it’s useful for almost every occasion!

    • Robert Ewoldt

      Being a mom is much like being a CEO. My wife is a master at running things in the household, and makes everything run smoothly.

      • Michael Hyatt

        I have sure seen that in my own wife, since moving my office home. I had no idea!

  • TNeal

    When John Maxwell succeeded Orville Butcher at Skyline Wesleyan, he constantly credited Rev. Butcher for his own success at the church. I know Orville Butcher’s great nephew and my friend has spoken about how well Maxwell handled the transition. Very affirming and uplifting to hear.

    So my advice would be to acknowledge those who’ve gone before you. You’ve done that in your posts and I’m sure Mark will have no trouble following your example.

    I admire how well you’ve handled the change and already have great respect for Mark’s leadership. Thomas Nelson Publishing as a company continues to have favor with both God and man.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for this. John is a great model. I think it is especially important to respect the past if you are going to build the future.

  • Craig White

    I would add that the successor should look for ways to honor the past. It is easy for a driven and focused leader to be anxious to move on to the future, but it’s good to honor the past. This requires the new leader to be secure in themselves and allows the remaining team members to see that confidence.

  • Joe Lalonde

    Thanks for posting this advice! I see a lot of this transferring over to almost any position you can take.

  • Simon

    Great Post! I will be starting as a leader in a new church in Switzerland soon and I think I’ll print out your post and hang it right beside my new desk!

    P.S. I think I found one small typing error: the third point you write “Being a CEO is an e enormous privilege” one “e” to much.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I must be something. How I spelled it is how my dictionary spelled it.

  • Brett Vaden

    While all of yours hits on this, I would add that “Your position is a spoke, not a hub.” Of course, CEO is a pretty major spoke. Or, to change the analogy, a CEO is a big planet, perhaps a Jupiter. But being a CEO is not like being the Sun, around which all the other planets orbit.

    • Michael Hyatt


  • Eric

    Excellent post, Michael. A few years ago I served as a VP under an amazing CEO of a different media company. I knew that God had called me to serve that man, so day one, I felt compelled to write the following on the upper-left corner of the whiteboard in my office:

    – Serve David (the CEO I reported to) and make him successful.
    – Serve those who serve David and make them successful.
    – Serve those who report to me and make them successful.
    – Serve our customers and suppliers and make them successful.

    I never erased those from my whiteboard during my entire tenure. While I was far from perfect in living up to those standards, they were a constant reminder of what my job really was and helped guide me through some very difficult situations and the conflicts that naturally arise in any organization.

    BTW, my wife also had a nugget of advice that she often reminds me about, “People won’t remember what you did, but they’ll forever remember how you made them feel.” Yes, we have a job to do, but it’s HOW you do it that makes all the difference.

    I am excited to see the next chapter in your life unfold … and, yes, I do think you have the makings of an amazing book on leadership that could top the charts.

    • Laurie Baedke

      I love that statement, Eric, “people won’t remember what you did, but they’ll forever remember how you made them feel”. Your wife is a wise woman. ; )

      Your reminder list is terrific as well. A great way to focus your efforts, and a powerful example to any who observed it in your office.

    • TNeal

      Your wife offers good counsel. Your comment brought back the memory of a particular pastor from my youth. I don’t remember a sermon he preached. I don’t remember a ministry or study he led. What I remember was he opened the door to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. For that reason, Jack Franklin has been and will forever be my favorite all-time pastor.

    • Stuart Clark

      Excellent counsel and the advice your wife gave is something I’ve put into my journal of inspirational quotes.

    • Michael Hyatt

      You wife’s advice is spot-on. Thanks.

  • Laurie Baedke

    Michael, congratulations on your transition, and thank you for today’s post. I have long admired your wisdom and candor. Few leaders are secure enough to be transparent about not only their successes, but also the failures and insecurities with which they wrestle. Your statement above, “I have felt inadequate with every new promotion I’ve ever received” is an honest admission, and one that I think everyone experiences. I know I absolutely do | have. The fear of that reality keeps so many from seeking greatness, and taking opportunities to share their gifts.

  • Richard Hartian

    Best advice that I could give (based on my own experience) is to never forget that the only reason you are a CEO is because of the people underneath you. Without employees a CEO is not needed.

    I have just recently made the decision to close/merge my mortgage bank and potentially leave the industry. I believe the timing was right; we were profitable and healthy. In fact, although a small company, we grew during the country’s economic downturn over the last four years.

    When I look back, every accomplishment we made was because of someone that worked for me. True, I decided the direction/vision, but it was the people that did the day to day work, they made it happen.

    I believe a CEO should look at their people in the way Jesus looked at people – value, worth, potential, importance – they are who the CEO takes care of and they will take take care of the CEO’s vision.

    • TNeal

      Your comment reminds me of what made me chuckle reading Michael’s list. Happy employees equals happy customers equals happy investors equals happy CEO. Sounds like you’ve done well in exemplifying that truth.

      • Richard Hartian

        Thanks TNeal!

    • Robert Ewoldt

      Thanks, Richard. A CEO looking at people the way that Jesus looked at people–that’s a great way to look at it. If, as a CEO, you have enough humility to understand, trust, and value your people, then your company will be successful. BTW, congratulations on weathering the downturn, especially in the mortgage and real estate market!

  • DrewHaninger

    Every leader in every field needs to read this, great advice from an experienced and humble CEO.

  • Dustin W. Stout

    I think my advice to a new CEO (or PASTOR) would just be for them to read what you’ve wrote here. You covered it ALL! Thanks Michael!

  • oodihi

    Know your priorities and don’t be afraid to revise the list if you need to. Also, take the advise of those below you on the ladder sometimes. Surround yourself with people from the beginning whose advise you can trust when your own judgment gets clouded by other happenings.

  • Dave Baldwin

    Thank you Michael for reminding me of several things that I think about often.
    First, I need to be a good steward of the idea God gave us for our company. I even cringe a bit using the word “our” because it belongs to Him. He planted the seed of this company in my mind. So, second, it is about Him and not us. He’s the one really at the helm and I’m in a sense a long for the ride. And it has been an exciting ride this past year.
    Third, it is about faithfulness, not achievement. Since our company belongs to Him, I just need to let Him guide and direct us and we’ll be more than okay. I don’t mean to over spiritualize it, I know you need to have business acumen, but at the end of the day, it is about faithfulness for sure.
    Since our company is family owned I’m not sure I’ll ever get out of it, but you never know. We are enjoying our success and the impact it is having on people around the world and it all came as an idea from God that we have tried to steward well.

  • Jasmina Boulanger

    Michael –

    I have been reading your blog for a while and was very impressed with your posts today and yesterday about the new chapter in your life. I especially agree with your points that a job is not personhood and one should not over identify with a position or title and that you should give your successor space.

    Less than two months ago, I left my position at a public company (which is in the process of being sold). The first week that I was free I took the time to go on a short monastic retreat to help refocus for the future. (see, I had planned to “retire” at a certain age and had given a lot of thought to living the next chapter … one of the reasons I started a fun (though rather unfocused) food & travel blog a year ago. Now I want to write in a more focused vein on financial issues for women. But, without the thought preparation and continuing experimentation with public writing on a blog, I could not have moved on with confidence.

    Second, a few years ago I headed a non-profit and subsequently became a trustee. When my successor took over, I made it a point to be supportive and hands-off. I was there as a private sounding board when she wanted to test an idea or to get more context about prior events, but I also gave here space to run her own “show.”

    Good luck with your new ventures.

  • Hectorthprotectorofhearts

    this really impacted me…i’m am laying in bed right now with pneumonia…i took over a new position at work and drove myself right into the ground…i guess i could have used this blog a few weeks ago! i feel so foolish…thank you for this post.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I have done the same and learned from you. You will recover—both in your health and in your career!

  • DrSteveAllen

    This was very beneficial for me today. Thank you for your words. I’m encouraged and enlightened.

  • Carmen E. Richards

    Hi Michael,
    I have worked with a few CEO’s as Exec Asst and the thoughts and advice you offered are stellar! Nicely done. I really appreciate your insights. I thought your seven points could apply to writers as well. I am preparing to publish and eBook (Memoir about my family’s escape from Cuba – 50 years ago this month – just after Bay of Pigs) and as I have been preparing the manuscript (having doubts, fear and trepidation) I keep thinking…just tell the story. Your thoughts today encouraged me: my role is a writer-one aspect of my life, this project is temporary, a privilege to complete and something to which I want to remain faithful. I am here to serve the story and those who will read it, being a good steward of the information entrusted to me and I feel inadequate to the task–but I thank God for the opportunities I’ve had to learn and grow and pray He will use my finite efforts for His infinite purposes. Okay, well thanks for letting me gush and for your wisdom. I believe God will continue to use you in wonderful ways as you begin writing and speaking full time. What a great privilege. God bless you, Carmen

  • Bethany Planton

    Thank you for sharing! Love this advice. I think it can go for anyone in leadership not just CEOs.

  • Anonymous

    Pray, pray, pray!
    1. Before you start your day.
    2. As you make decisions and plan.
    3. At the end of every day thanking God for being your Guide!

  • Novelette

    The strength of a leader I believe is in his/her ability to “love” people. If you truly love people no individual will seem hard to help. It most definetly will take longer with some persons but if you can’t do it I truly believe you can always find someone else to handle it. Also, you can’t lead people you are afraid up. Approach everyone with a heart of LOVE…it works!!!!! Finally people are beautiful….they just don’t know.

  • Heartstone

    I really like the “others oriented” theme. Great insight and thanks for sharing.

  • Heartstone

    I really like the “others oriented” theme. Great insight and thanks for sharing.

  • Heartstone

    I really like the “others oriented” theme. Great insight and thanks for sharing.

  • Heartstone

    I like the “others oriented” perspective. Thank for your insight and for sharing.

  • Steve Bradley

    Learn humility. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself and those you lead.
    Look at life with humor, and on the bright side.
    If the job is never fun, don’t do it any longer.

  • Jay Johnson

    You added it at the end, but my advice is to make it a priority: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Far too many live with the fallacy of spending 90 hours = more productivity. Yes, there will be weeks like this, but you must make it a priority, a non-negotiable task, to exercise daily, eat right (and for energy (fruit, vegetables, lean meats), hydrate continually, and meditate/pray every day. Without these I get less done in 90 hours than 50, with them.

    The paragraph on Stewardship is spot on as well. Everything we have: our children, our careers, our organizations….all belong to Mr. Big. Get over it already; we do not really own, nor are we really fully responsible for having these. The sooner we really realize this, the more free we become to lead from our hearts instead of our minds.

    Jay Johnson
    VP – IT CM

  • Stroke

    Remeber the “grunts” that do the dirty, tedious work with professional attitude. There are a few that because of their life’s circumstances lead them to where they are. The ones that are true pros- that is they go above and beyond, do fast quality work, and are always there without complaint. Acknowledge the hard work they do, and when possible, break ranks from pay scales that don’t relate to the rare individual that is worth more. I have seen too many good ones leave, thinking the next job will eventually give them the respect they deserve.

  • Theresa

    Thank you Mr. Hyatt, for sharing these insights. I appreciate your perspective and candor. AMEN!

  • Dylan Dodson

    Great advice and really neat to see coming from a CEO like yourself.

  • Melodee Forbes

    Allow your people (followers– employees in particular) to GROW, CREATE, INVENT.. don’t be such a control freak because some of the best ideas, systems and inventions don’t come from you but the people AROUND you.. especially those that work on the daily, in-the-trenches grind.

    Also, have the same standard you set for everyone else at minimum what you hold for yourself. :)

    Great article, Michael!

  • Jeff McManus

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom and insight. What has been the biggest challenge during this process?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Slowing down long enough to process it! Seriously, this has been a whirlwind week. But, thankfully, it will begin slowing down next week.

  • Steve Hufford

    Mike, I am an investment banker in Atlanta and I spend most of my time courting and/or serving CEOs, CFOs and Boards. I have been at this for many years. I find that a few of them get these principles, but many do not. Your advice, however, is right on point. I have come to find out that the long-term prospects of a company correlate greatly with the CEO’s ability to “get it” on these issues. In fact, that’s really the point of Jim Collins’ classic, “Good to Great,” isn’t it? In any event, well said. I’m sending to a few of my clients who do in fact get it. Good luck in your new roles.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Steve. I appreciate that affirmation.

  • Christin

    I have never been a CEO of a company, but I felt a lot of this related to me as a mother and homemaker.
    This line in particular struck a cord within me: “Someone is counting on you to come through for them.” Hmmm mmm…my children.

    And also, #7. I am not responsible for hundreds, but for 5. Five children whom I was entrusted to train up in the ways of the Lord. I CANNOT do that alone.

    Thank you for your insights, Mr. Hyatt. :)

  • Deiric McCann

    As ever Michael, I think you nailed it. Not that the other points don’t resonate, but I think number 5 is where it’s really all at – it truly is all about them.

    At a time when the last resort for driving the sort of genuine engagement that produces sustainable productivity and profitability is essential to any organisation striving to thrive (or even survive) any CEO who misses this vital point is doomed (and her/his operation along with it). Unless your focus is upon ensuring those on the journey with you are well tended to you have no hope of distracting people from the many negative messages that will knock them out of sycn with you and the organisations goals.

    Good luck with the new branch in your life – you’ve already set it up for great success.


  • PMichael Biggs

    Michael Hyatt, what great words and wisdom. I applaud you for having your head screwed on right. Michael Biggs

  • Hein van Wyk

    Great advice and very true. My first advice as CEO came from one of our board members who told me that there are 2 main things every CEO should have: Confidence and Curiosity. I agree wholeheartedly. As a believer, I have a few more.

    Ravi Zacharias made a great statement the other day when he said: “The greatest battle you will ever face is your battle to spent time with God. If you don’t overcome this battle, every other battle will overcome you.” Walking closely with the Lord is essential for every soul, but pivotal to the success and sanity of every CEO.

    • TNeal

      This is simple and exceptional advice. Thanks for sharing.–Tom

  • Lou

    Spend some time washing the feet of those on the other side of the organizational food chain

  • Joe

    I love your posts!

  • Geoff Talbot

    Hi Michael,

    I love this blog, it filled with humility, I find your own story and the way you write very inspiring. I also like the Seven Point thing that you do as I write my own blog called “Seven Sentences” that follows my journey in film-making.

    A quick question about this website that I love? Who does the ads? They are a very natural fit for the website…

    Anyway thanks again for writing…


    • Michael Hyatt

      Actually, my daughter Mindy does the ads. You can learn more on my Advertising page. Thanks.

  • Jason Peters

    I heard this advice the other day. The best advice I can give to a new CEO is to allow themselves to dream. That, I believe, is where great idea’s start.

  • Dave Sohnchen

    These are great words Michael. Although I’m not in a position of becoming a CEO any time soon, these are great principles to live by regardless of the position.

    I often find that I have an unhealthy dose of inadequacy which often holds me back from starting something new. Although I’m working on building that confidence, it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one that feels inadequate.

  • Laura Parker@Life Overseas

    This is essential advice. I think this statement is one we too often don’t regard as true for any of our leaders, in any arena . . .

    “But if you die of a heart attack, burnout emotionally, or lose your faith in God, you will be of no use to anyone.”

    Absolutely. My husband has been in church ministry for ten years, and we are now overseas directing a Christian NGO, and this sentence has played out in so many lives around us. In our own work/ministry/leadership, it is such a challenge to set boundaries, to sometimes spend extravagantly, to take wonderful vacations, to say “no” so we can hang out with our kids {even though the needs around us currently are immense}. It’s so easy to unwisely “lay it all on the line” for the job/ministry– only to find that you laid yourself on the line too quickly, for the short-term extreme.

  • Tom

    Excellent advice, brother!

  • Shawn

    I have no advice to give. However, I just assumed the role of CEO of a Federal Credit Union. As a brother in Christ, I greatly appreciate your expereince, wisdom and insight. I intend to print and keep this brief article in my desk for frequent reference. Thank you and God Bless you as you start down this new trail in your own wal.

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  • Mike_cassity

    Great article! These 7 points are ones we should all take to hart.

  • Robert Ewoldt

    Michael, the last piece of advice (#7) is especially important. You said, “this healthy sense of inadequacy is the very thing you need to remain humble, teachable, and open to counsel.” I think this is vitally important: that a CEO doesn’t become a silo, unable to seek counsel, and without humility.

  • Anonymous

    Great advice for leaders Michael. God bless you on your new endeavors.

  • Romeo

    Thank you for your thoughts and advice. I have found a new Mentor:)

  • Stem

    A CEO is first a servant and then a leader – following in the footsteps of the greatest leader Jesus Christ

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  • Nathan Peterson

    Outstanding advice and not just to CEO’s.  Anyone in a leadership role would benefit from this advice.  A key point is often missed in management:  “Your subordinates drive results not through your managment, but through your leadership”.  There is a distinct difference between managing and leading.

    • Joe Lalonde

      Having worked in retail for a majority of my working life, I must say you are right. You could see it in your coworkers when leadership was done poorly. They would hide in the warehouse, pretend to be doing work, and brushing off customers. Yet when we had managers who led well, the employees were more productive.

  • Chris Honsinger

    Thank you for these basic principles. Somehow I know how powerful these are, but they are very hard to maintain. It is exactly what I need to hear.

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  • joshua07

    I know this post is over 2 years old, but this morning it provided me with a blessing. Recently my leadership role has changed. Though it has changed for the better, the transition has left me confused in how to fulfill my new role. Recently I have found myself working through thoughts of insecurity and inadequacy.

    This post was a blessing and helped me practically overcome some negative thought about change, refocus my attention on what matters and embrace this new position with a proactive mind.