12 Lessons To Learn From The Work Of Well-Known Business Leaders

Expert Panel® Forbes Councils Members

Leaders of hugely successful, globally known and admired companies can’t help but also become well-known personalities themselves. Their notoriety may be positively or negatively charged, but people who reach such heights have inevitably learned some important lessons on their climb to success.

Whether they’ve written books or blogs to share their knowledge or are so famous that people everywhere share stories of their business acumen and quirks, these superstar leaders possess a wealth of enlightening experience. Here, 12 members of Forbes Coaches Council share the biggest lessons they’ve learned from observing, reading or experiencing the work of the leaders of some of the world’s most behemoth companies.

Featured members share lessons they've learned from well-known business leaders.
Forbes Coaches Council members share lessons they’ve learned from the work of well-known business leaders. 

1. Be Unapologetically Yourself

The biggest lesson I have learned from Elon Musk is to be unapologetically yourself as you fearlessly support the things you care about and the causes and advances you believe in. If you want to see what someone cares about, and what has their heart, watch where their money goes! – Kristin Andree, Andree Group

2. Manage Your Time Well

Manage your time! My former boss, Don Thompson, the first African American CEO of McDonald’s and now founder and CEO of venture capital investment company Cleveland Avenue, showed me the discipline required to be present for your family and be a high performer at work. It starts with clarifying your purpose and building a diverse team that understands your value and their role in supporting your goals. – Meredith Leigh Moore, Leverette Weekes

3. Treat Everyone Equally

Early in my career, I had the honor of working for James A. Abrahamson, Chairman of the Board at Oracle and a U.S. Air Force general who also served as associate director of NASA. The biggest lesson was that he treated everyone equally. This manifested in the way he would relate to everyone, from entry-level staff to CEOs of large corporations, with the same respect, values, character and quality of listening. – Bree Luther, Inspired Science Coaching

4. Leverage The ‘Reality Distortion Field’

The ability to create the “reality distortion field” that Steve Jobs was known for is a crucial trait for successful leaders. If you can create in someone’s mind a vision of what’s possible that they find compelling and attainable, regardless of how outlandish, how difficult or how far off that vision might be—you can recruit incredible resources and passion to your cause. – Steve Haase, Hypergrowth Coaching, Inc.

5. Always Act As A Servant Leader

Ken Blanchard’s insistence on servant leadership as the only authentic form of leadership has been instrumental for me. Servant leadership is about acting in the best interests of others, as best as we can understand this. Servant leaders are deeply trusted, humble and give credit to others. You can count yourself very lucky indeed if your company has a servant leader at the top. – Randy Shattuck, The Shattuck Group

6. Create Mechanisms To Turn Good Intentions Into Reality

I still remember when I was at Amazon and, for the first time, heard Jeff Bezos saying, “Good intentions aren’t good enough.” What he meant was that many people have beautiful ideas and great intentions. Still, it takes thoughtful planning, rigorous vetting and strong mechanisms to take those intentions and turn them into successful products within a customer-centric organization and culture. – Andreas von der Heydt, Andreas Von Der Heydt Coaching & Consulting

7. Be Visionary And Humble

To be visionary and humble are two of the biggest lessons one can learn from Ratan Tata of Tata Industries. As a visionary, he helped the business scale beyond India to own some of the biggest global brands today. And yet, he still keeps his pulse on the ground with his employees and is empathetic and approachable. One can assume this is based on his strong personal values about relationships. – Arthi Rabikrisson, Prerna Advisory

8. Build A Strong Culture For All To Inspire Success

How do you deal with disruptive, innovative technology, demographic shifts, and changing competitive expectations? The key is by focusing on your strategy and talent and building a strong culture that can inspire success in the future. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, focuses on the best by creating the right company culture—not just for employees but also for co-workers, customers and industry partners. – Dennis Foo, Pu Xin ASPIRA Advisory Limited – Shanghai | Hong Kong

9. Make Everything Easy For Customers

One of the best things that Jeff Bezos has taught us is to make everything easy for your customers. Everything with Amazon is easy. You want an item? Here’s a “buy now,” 1-click option. Also, don’t want to wait? Here’s Prime shipping. Bezos has locked in on simplicity and ease, and it’s something many companies could learn from. – Jon Dwoskin, The Jon Dwoskin Experience

10. Always Think Big

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from a well-known leader is to always think big. This was something that Elon Musk emphasized early on in his career, and it has served him well. He has built two multibillion-dollar companies, Tesla and SpaceX. When you think big, you are able to come up with innovative ideas and solutions that can have a major impact. – Peter Boolkah, The Transition Guy

11. Carve Your Own Path

Barbara Corcoran of “Shark Tank” and The Corcoran Group is my business role model. The biggest lesson I have learned from her is to step out of the expected mold and leverage your creativity to carve your own path. Use your imagination to fill in the blanks when you don’t know the answer, and a new solution will appear. Because of her example, I remind myself daily to be myself and do things my way. – Cathy Lanzalaco, Inspire Careers LLC

12. Focus On Being The Market Leader

Jack Welch’s rule that every General Electric business must be No. 1 or No. 2 in its market reminds me that seeking excellence—or as I refer to it, “maximizing”—is the goal. Figuring out how to become the leader in your market (versus being a participant) is a difficult but worthy objective for every CEO. – Ben Levitan, Cedalion Partners