The Info I Need: No Less and, Please, No More

Adam Bryant identifies 5 key traits to leadership in his new book “The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons From CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed.” The most counterintuitive: “A Simple Mind-Set.”

Of the five CEO traits that Adam Bryant identifies as key to leading an organization, perhaps the most interesting is this: “A Simple Mind-Set.”

“Most senior executives want the same thing from people who present to them: be concise, get to the point, make it simple,” Bryant writes in “Distilling the Wisdom of C.E.O.’s,” a New York Times piece adapted from his new book The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons From CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed.

Simplicity, though, is evasive. “Few people can deliver the simplicity that many bosses want,” Bryant writes. “Instead, they mistakenly assume that the bosses will be impressed by a long PowerPoint presentation that shows how diligently they researched a topic, or that they will win over their superiors by talking more, not less.”

One explanation is that people have trouble being concise. “Next time you’re in a meeting, ask somebody to give you the 10-word summary of his or her idea,” writes Bryant. “Some people can do a quick bit of mental jujitsu, and they’ll summarize an idea with a ‘Here’s what’s important ...’ or ‘The bottom line is ... .’ Others will have trouble identifying the core point.”

Bryant also cites the avalanche of information we live in and the necessary skill of being able to sift through it efficiently: “There was a time when simply having certain information was a competitive advantage. Now, in the Internet era, most people have easy access to the same information. That puts a greater premium on the ability to synthesize, to connect dots in new ways and to ask simple, smart questions that lead to untapped opportunities.”

This idea of not wanting to swim in too much material echoes the thesis of Thomas H. Davenport and Jim Hagemann Snabe's piece “How Fast and Flexible Do You Want Your Information, Really?, in the Spring 2011 issue of MIT SMR. “It’s important for senior executives to identify the information they need more quickly and flexibly, and the time frame in which they need to receive it,” they write. “Even if acquiring information required no effort and always took place in real time, consuming it would take time and attention.”

By the way, the other four qualities shared by the 70 chief executives and other leaders that Bryant interviewed: Passionate curiosity. Battle-hardened confidence. Team smarts. And: Fearlessness.