4 takeaways from (almost) a year of Modern CEO


Hello and welcome to Modern CEO! Each week this newsletter explores inclusive approaches to leadership drawn from conversations with executives and entrepreneurs, and from the pages of Inc. and Fast Company. If you received this newsletter from a friend, you can sign up to get it yourself every Monday morning.

Hi, this is Gwen Moran, Modern CEO’s editor. It’s been almost a year since Stephanie Mehta launched her weekly newsletter, giving subscribers a front-row seat as she shared insights on leadership, management, and other topics of interest to the folks who run successful companies. Behind the scenes, we have a dedicated and hard-working team ensuring that Modern CEO hits your inbox each week—and you have rewarded us with a fast-growing and loyal following.

As we near the one-year anniversary, we thought this was a good time to look back at some of the best takeaways so far. We hope you enjoy revisiting them.

Bust the barriers that prevent hiring the best people.

Survey after survey has told us that finding and retaining the best people is a top issue keeping CEOs up at night. And the historically tight labor market doesn’t help. Mehta has explored how to expand those talent pools in a few ways. In May, she discussed how skills-based hiring that prioritizes abilities and talents over fancy degrees opens up doors to new talent as well as how companies like Delta Airlines have expanded this practice at scale. A few months later, she explored how culture contributes to keeping the best talent in a discussion with Wieden+Kennedy CEO Neal Arthur, who encourages employees to “speak their truth” in the workplace. Another issue explored why Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Lowe’s CEO Marvin Ellison care about disability inclusion.

The collective takeaway: Focus on breaking down barriers that prevent you from finding and keeping the best people, which is why diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are still important, even as they come under fire from courts and legislators.

A new Fortune 500 CEO finds fuel for innovation in unlikely places.

Toni Townes-Whitley became one of only two Black women running Fortune 500 companies when she took the reins at Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) in early October. Mehta scored an exclusive interview with the newly minted CEO, which was published in the October 3 issue of Modern CEO. In addition to her insights about her time at Microsoft and Satya Nadella’s journey toward a growth mindset—fueled by the work of Stanford University’s Carol Dweck—I found Townes-Whitley’s attitude about the company fresh and inspiring. To paraphrase: SAIC is undervalued and misunderstood. (Perhaps a theme that sounds familiar to virtually any company leader.) The inspiring part? She plans to use those issues to fuel innovation, including onboarding a new chief innovation officer just out of the Air Force.

CEOs need to learn and grow, too.

Even as you lead your company, growing it and navigating changing times, you need to learn and grow, too. I loved the concept of an “imperfect CEO” that Mehta shared this summer. Sometimes, showing the realities of leadership, warts and all, can foster trust among team members. In September, leadership class was in session when she shared takeaways from her discussion with Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg, including his “boss contract”—an approach to goal setting that is a bit of genius. And, of course, let’s not forget how the founders of the internet showed us the outsized power of a shout-out.

AI is everywhere. And we’re all racing to keep up.

Chances are your company is grappling with questions about how to utilize, harness, protect against, and even understand AI in its various forms. You’re not alone. In one issue, Mehta addressed whether AI will replace the CEO role, as one CEO survey teased. (Spoiler alert: No. It might make the CEO role tougher.) And while chatbots have their place, they can’t replace the invaluable contributions of an effective, human-powered customer service team, for example. It’s a rare CEO who isn’t racing to keep up with the ever-changing world of AI and how it can help or hurt their business. This is a topic that Modern CEO will continue to explore. (This issue about how Reddit is handling AI in its forums and the importance of transparency is also worth a re-read.)

Share your favorites

What was your favorite takeaway from Modern CEO? We’d love to hear about it. Or, if you’re dealing with a thorny leadership or company issue that you’d like Mehta to explore, please share and we’ll explore it for a future issue. Send your thoughts and feedback to stephaniemehta@mansueto.com. We’d love to hear from you.

Read, listen, and watch: leadership, innovation, AI, and talent


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