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GUEST BLOG: Lessons on success

25th July 2011 - Adam Bryant

Image of Adam BryantAdam Bryant, the deputy national editor of the New York Times, has been a journalist for more than two decades. He was a business reporter for The New York Times during the 1990s, covering a variety of industries and topics, including airlines, aviation safety, executive compensation and corporate governance. He joined Newsweek in 1999 as a senior writer, and was promoted to business editor, before returning to the New York Times six years later as an editor in the business section.

He was the lead editor for Driven to Distraction, a series about the dangers of mobile phone use behind the wheel, which won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2010. He has also won the Scripps Howard National Journalism Award, the Investigative Reporters and Editors' Medal, the National Academies' reporting award, the investigative reporting award from the Society of Environmental Journalists, and the 2009 Science in Society Journalism Award.

In March 2009, Adam started his column, Corner Office, in the New York Times' Sunday Business section, and it quickly attracted a large and loyal audience for its insights about leadership and management from prominent leaders. For the resulting book, The Corner Office, Adam studied the transcripts from more than 70 interviews, and looked for patterns, broader themes and lessons. He wove together their candid and wise insights into a book that offers timeless advice on how to succeed, manage and lead.


When I launched my weekly Corner Office feature in the New York Times in March 2009, I never expected to write a book. I figured the weekly column - a Q&A with CEOs on open-ended questions about the challenges of leadership and management - would simply stand on its own. Plus, the last thing the world needed was another business book.

But as the weeks and months went by, I started noticing patterns in the CEOs' answers. I heard echoes of certain comments (more than one CEO, for example, said the exact same thing when describing what, ultimately, their job is: "I am a student of human nature."). After conducting more than 70 interviews, I had about one million words of transcripts from my interviews. It was, in a sense, raw data, even though none of my conversations touched on the usual matters of strategy and stock performance.

The Corner OfficeAnd so, armed with many sheets of blank paper, pencils and an eraser, I started connecting dots and identifying patterns. After sifting the material many times, some insights occurred to me. I would ask the CEOs about important leadership lessons they had learned over the course of the lives. Very often, I would hear about qualities they embodied that helped explain their rise to the top.

Then I would ask the CEOs about the qualities they looked for when they hired, and often I would hear that they particularly valued the very same qualities that helped explain their own rise. Because of the very nature of their position, they have first-hand experience about what it takes to succeed, and they can also see what qualities set people apart in the organizations they run.

Which led to another insight. To be clear, I am not the first person to sit down with CEOs to ask them about things that are important in their lives and what explains their success. Others have done this exercise and published books with the answers. But very often those answers have been reminders of the obvious - honesty, integrity, vision. What if the puzzle was framed a different way?

Take, as a starting point, 100 vice presidents in a large corporation, and then assume they are all honest, good communicators, hard-working, and that they have integrity.The question then is, what separates people as they move up? Why do some people keep getting promoted over others? What are the qualities that set high-performers apart from the pack? The answer, I decided, lies in the five qualities that I discuss in the first third of my book, in a section on 'Succeeding'. The middle third pulls together insights on managing, and the last third is on the art of leadership.

While I do not pretend to suggest that I have cracked some magical code, I have received tremendous feedback on the book, including many emails from people who say that they have seen evidence of the importance of these qualities in their own lives. The CEOs I interviewed have decades of collective experience in understanding who succeeds and why. I saw my role in the book as dinner party host to bring out all their insights and have them share their memorable stories.


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