Adam Bryant Reveals the Habits of Effective CEOs at SMG

On October 4, the School of Management kicked off the Dean’s Speaker Series with New York Times Editor Adam Bryant’s Tips from the Corner Office. Bryant, a senior editor of the Features section, has interviewed over 200 CEOs for his weekly piece entitled “The Corner Office,where he identifies the crucial habits and values of successful people.

Bryant’s feature may seem superficially unappealing, and might make even a perusal of Perez Hilton’s blog to read about Kristen Stewart’s latest romantic endeavors sound interesting. And yet his interviews have a lot more to offer than boring business talk.

Dean Freeman and Adam Bryant
Dean Freeman listens as Adam Bryant answers audience questions on self-awareness in the workplace. | Photo by Kara Korab

Bryant held a conversation with SMG’s Dean Freeman in a rather cozy, living room atmosphere–well, despite the crowded auditorium looking on–where Freeman gave the “speed dating version” of his own story and delved right into talking about what he knows best.

Although one would think interviewing over 200 CEOs would become redundant, Bryant remains enthusiastic and at times surprised. He’s had his palm read by one CEO and has received a Japanese personality test from another. While virtually every Corner Office interview conducted has been enjoyable for him, he has noticed a pattern in the personalities and the way these CEOs hire. He advantageously collected all of this wisdom into a book, obviously titled The Corner Office.

Bryant admitted that he’s “not the first person to do this.” There have been many books published, articles written, and studies done on what it takes to become a CEO, or even simply how to be successful. Bryant claims that one fault of these other publications is their interview questions: “I don’t ask [CEOs], ‘What is the key to success?’ That usually gives one-word answers like ‘honesty’ or ‘integrity.’ No one knows what to do with that.” Instead, he asks conversation sparking questions about their habits, interviewing style, and managing style.

Here’s how he broke down the habits of highly effective CEOs:

Passionate Curiosity: A deep engagement in the world, asking questions of everything.

Battle-Hardened Confidence: A past of facing adversity, knowing what you’re capable of.

A Simple Mindset: An ability to distill the value out of the information-overload that we live in.

Team Smarts: “The organization equivalent of street smart.” Know who to hire, always have your antenna up.

Fearlessness: A tendency towards action in approaching jobs and a career.

Adam Bryant
Adam Bryant keeps the audience laughing with clever one-liners throughout the seminar. | Photo by Kara Korab

If he had to pick one, Bryant says that passionate curiosity is the most important quality because, “CEOs are not CEOs because they have the right answers, they have the right questions.” They know where to find the answers, distill the important information, and implement them.

But most students at this seminar really wanted to know the interview strategies to get the job in the first place.

Bryant also went through some unique questions that he has gotten over the years: When are you most beautiful? What is the meaning of life? On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?

While these questions are certainly shocking, the ability to answer them depends on honestly knowing one’s limits, strengths, and personal goals. Bryant suggests that interviewers can see right through any glib, textbook interview lines, so feeding interviewers a line that feigns confidence will backfire and only prove self-ignorance. They are looking to learn about the person in front of them, and how he or she will stack up in the workplace by asking thought-provoking questions. Answering them honestly will reveal the most.

Bryant also stressed that all’s not over when the job is earned– personal relationships and networking are key. He suggests picking up the phone rather than emailing, or better yet, having face-to-face conversations: “E-mail does literally nothing to build the connective tissue between people in an organization. In fact, it will probably do more damage because there is infinite room for miscommunication.”

Ultimately, what I thought would be a fairly boring lecture on how to succeed in the business world turned out to be an insightful, engaging, and, I dare say, even inspiring seminar. How weird am I on a scale of 1-10? Maybe a six.

Emily Payne

Emily is The Quad's Managing Editor. Hailing from the smallest state, she loves the outdoors, photography, indie rock, biking, and all things Irish or organic. She has an addiction to running and can laugh about basically anything. Follow her @erpayne.

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