"Don't confuse progress with winning," and other leadership advice from the CEO of General Motors

Publish date:

Mary Barra is living the classic American success story. She began working at age 18 as a quality inspector on General Motors's assembly line. Today she's the CEO, the first woman ever named head of a major automaker. It doesn't get anymore white picket fence and apple pie than that.

Barra shared what she's learned through three decades of ladder-climbing and throne-sitting with Esquire, and I thought it would be worthwhile to share the relevant points with you. There's a lot to chew on here, but there are plenty of worthwhile points for every current and aspiring leader to know.

Commit them to memory, tape them to your bathroom wall, tweet them out early in the morning or throw them in your mental trash bin, I think they're at least worthy of sitting on for a while.

- Some people are natural-born leaders. Some people can be great leaders with the right training. Some people are better as individual contributors. Looking at them from above, it's very hard to tell who fits in what category. But the people who work for them can tell you.

- The people looking over their shoulder and wondering about their next job are the least successful.

- Don't confuse progress with winning: If the world is improving at 10 percent and you're improving at 2 percent, you might be improving, but you're losing.

- My advice on firing is simple: Treat that person the same way you'd want to be treated if you were in that situation. They're still a good person, just not the right fit. So how do you help them move on in a productive way that allows them to maintain their dignity?

- I want bad news—the sooner the better. I want it when the person closest to it realizes there's a problem. Almost every problem at the start is solvable. The longer it takes to solve, the higher it gets in the organization and the bigger the problem gets.

- You can't schedule quality time. It just happens. Now that I have teenagers, I especially realize that you have to spend enough time that the quality moments happen.

- When you have multiple points of view, you come out with a better answer.

- Twenty years ago was the best time to plant a tree. What's the second-best time? Now.

- If you think I'm wrong, tell me.

(HT Esquire)