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What sets great business leaders apart from the rest? Here’s how successful CEOs approach their work differently


Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are both known to be voracious readers. Each year Gates tells us all about his favourite books and what he has learnt from them. Similarly, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg are both experience collectors, lifelong learners always seeking to find a new perspective on the world. These leaders will all tell you they have much more to learn, that their journey of discovery is far from over.

Over the past decade as the CEO and managing director of The CEO Circle, I’ve had the good fortune of interacting with more than 500 chief executives from around the country. Along with these personal insights, I’ve also read hundreds of books and articles on what makes leaders tick. My new book Why I Wrote This Book: For Greater Success contains the fruits of my research.

One of the main conclusions I’ve reached from my research is that truly successful CEOs and business leaders approach their work as an infinite journey. These leaders understand success is infinite and unlimited. They hit targets as they go but the game doesn’t stop; they keep playing. They have a growth mindset that craves new challenges and they feed that with new knowledge and experiences.

There’s no perfect formula to being a great CEO

There’s no perfect personality template for being a great CEO. Some are extroverts, others introverts. Some are obsessed with details, others are big picture thinkers. Some are very good at dealing with people, others not so. Almost all of them are abstract as well as practical thinkers. They are curious about their surroundings and the world beyond the box of their daily existence.

Successful CEOS are practical dreamers. We hear expressions like ‘she’s a bit of a dreamer’ or ‘he knows the nuts and bolts but has no vision’ all the time. Some people are very good at the operational aspects of a business, while others are better at the big picture. The truly great business leaders are usually the ones who transcend that dreamer/doer divide. They can make dreams come true. They know their business inside and out.

Albert Einstein once said, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” At a time when we are hearing so much about buzzwords like disruption and transformation, it’s worthwhile thinking about the value of imagination.

Great CEOs pay attention to the data

We are inundated with data and information that is designed to help us make better decisions about our businesses, and in many regards, that is the case. Data can be a powerful tool. Great CEOs pay attention to what the data tells them, but they go beyond that and are able to reimagine their business in the wake of new information. They see possibilities and potential where others might just see data points. They see the opportunities that enable them to turn dreams into reality.

Great CEOs understand the push and pull dynamic between vision and reality, theory and practice, ultimate success and the hard work it takes to get there. There is a process to all this that I have observed. They see what’s possible, think ahead and think big picture. Then they go back, reflect, and start to fill in the gaps, apply the brushstrokes, until they complete every intricate detail of that picture and bring it to life.

They surround themselves with the very best people they can, who can help them with their endeavours. With positive people who encourage them to dream and with practical people who know how to get things done.

The great Mahatma Gandhi said, “ Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” These powerful words express the importance of our desire to learn and how it feeds our unlimited potential. Our own evolution, our growth and ultimate success, is an infinite journey. By visualising what is possible through the power of imagination, without limitations, and embracing the knowledge and wisdom of others, we never stop learning and evolving. This is what I have found truly great leaders understand and do.

A passionate thought leader, keynote speaker and facilitator, John Karagounis leads The CEO Circle, Australia’s leading exclusive peer group forum for business leaders. John started his career in the financial services industry, winning numerous State and National awards and eventually found his niche in private wealth management where he held a number of senior executive roles in two of Australia’s leading financial institutions and in a global wealth management business. During his twenty-year career in financial services, he also held a number of board positions and was a true advocate for the industry. John is married to Nicky and they currently live in Melbourne, Australia with their three children, Theo, Peter and Angelica. For more information about John’s new book Why I Wrote This Book: For Greater Success please visit johnkaragounis.com.

JK seated holding copy of book