5 Lessons If You Want To Be Top Dog


Robert Half has published five unexpected lessons on being a leader, taken from interviews with CEOs of FTSE 100 companies, the 100 largest companies on the London Stock Exchange. Here are the five lessons the human resource consulting firm identified, who said them, and why you should listen if you have aspirations to become your boss’s boss.

The first tip, to have a strong work ethic, is taken from an interview with Veronique Laury, the chief executive of Kingfisher. Speaking in January 2015, after she became the fifth female CEO of a FTSE 100 company, she told the Telegraph that her successful career was in part due to her strong work ethic. She is quoted as saying:

“I have not done it differently from a man. I have just worked, been passionate about what I have been doing, been true to my convictions.”

Laury has certainly worked hard, after studying politics and law at the Institut de Sciences Politiques in Paris, she entered the DIY sector in 1988 and worked her way up, whilst renovating three houses in her spare time. She started working for Castorama, the French DIY business owned by Kingfisher, in 2003 and became chief executive in 2013, after spending some time working for B&Q in the UK, before becoming CEO of Kingfisher itself in 2015. As well as Castorama and B&Q, Kingfisher owns other DIY giants, such as Screwfix. Some may consider a strong work ethic a given when it comes to being successful in business, but it is so important that it is always worth repeating.

The second lesson is to have a willingness to learn. It is impossible to be an expert in everything, and the most successful people are those who do not consider themselves too important to take advice from others. Robert Half suggests that Paul Walsh of Diageo, Willie Walsh of International Airlines Group (IAG), and Sir Martin Sorrell of Wire and Plastic Products (WPP) are good examples of leaders who constantly try to expand their knowledge base.

In the 16 years that Paul Walsh was chief executive of Diageo he sold off businesses such as Burger King to specialise on the drinks side, businesses such as Guinness that are owned by the company, and tripled Diageo’s share price. IAG made a profit of £1 billion in 2014, and is expected to make in excess of £1.6 billion this year. Sir Martin Sorrell founded WPP in 1985 and expanded it into an £18 billion business. These are definitely people to emulate.

A decisive nature is the third lesson, identified by Liv Garfield as one of the traits she favours in employees. Garfield became the youngest female CEO of a FTSE 100 company in the spring of 2014 when she became the chief executive of Severn Trent. Severn Trent is the UK’s third largest publicly traded water company and supplies over 8 million Britons. Garfield was named the 14th Most Powerful Woman in Europe, Middle East and Africa by Fortune in 2014. She stated in an interview with the York Press that she is very timely and decisive.

The fourth tip, to embrace social media, comes from Robert Glaesener who is the chief executive of Talkwalker. Glaesener, who holds a BA from HEC Management School and an MBA from the Harvard Business School, suggested in an interview with the Telegraph that, in this technological age, ignoring Twitter can be compared to leaving a phone to ring.

Social media plays a huge part in most people’s lives and companies can have a large influence by utilising social media platforms. Talkwalker is a high-tech company, but all companies, big and small, can benefit from using the technology available. Individuals should also use social media to maximise their potential, with LinkedIn and Twitter able to enhance your career prospects by helping you to make connections.

The final lesson is to love the company and its people. The chief executive of Royal Mail, Moya Greene, believes that a passion for your work is particularly important when in a leadership role. She told the Telegraph that you cannot do a job like hers if you do not love the company and people. Greene was named one of the most influential women in the country in 2003, 7 years before she became been CEO of Royal Mail, in 2010. Earlier this year Greene was named Financial Times person of the year.

As lesson two says, if you want to become a leader in a successful company you should take advice from those with experience and expertise. The CEOs featured have all gained and maintained their positions, and listening to them will help you on the way to your own top spot.