Forbes Coaches Council Member

Leadership Insights: SAP CEO

Photo credit to Fast Company’s Co.Exist

I am absolutely mind-crushing on Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP and author of “Winners Dream: A Journey from Corner Store to Corner Office.” I just listened to his interview on Fortune Unfiltered with Aaron Task. I’m looking forward to hearing Steve Singh’s perspective on Bill, having sold his company (Concur) to SAP a few years ago. Steve’s on the next “From the CEO’s Perspective” forum on March 16. I have a lot of questions for him! Anyhow, here are my takeaways from listening to Bill McDermott…

Work smart. “Have a bias for work and a sense of urgency for winning.”

Hope. “Give hope to young people and people without means. College should be available to everyone. Money shouldn’t shut people out.”

Win. “Realize that, in the end, the customer determines whether you win or lose. Galvanize people around quality, get them to do the job the right way the first time and be obsessed with that customer.”

Empathy. “Every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to be empathetic. Listen, learn and get inside the customer’s dreams, their goals.”

World-changing. “When you combine data and capital with human insight and human passion, you can change the world.”

Strategy. “Don’t rush strategy, because once you set it, own it, believe it and don’t change it. Leaders can be forgiven for a lot of things, but not bad strategy.”

Oh the irony. “Execs invest 80% of their day job on people issues. In board rooms, they spend less time talking about people than anything else.”

More on strategy. “Make the tough calls that allow you to stick to your strategy. Most people bail on the strategy when the going gets tough. In the long run, you’ll get there.”

Take note. “Most people grossly overestimate what they can do in the short run, and grossly underestimate what they can do in the long run. The best leaders don’t.”

Smart man. “Of all the accomplishments, you can have in your life, there’s nothing that equals wife and kids.” On wife Julie – “It was love at first sight. I knew right away that she was someone I could go the distance with. Married 25 years, 2 sons.”

Trust your intuition. “When I interview, I know in 30 seconds what the ending is going to be.”

Be humble. “Only recently did I feel like I wasn’t totally broke.”

Kids should work. “Raise them to be humble, hungry and committed. Work is good for kids. It builds self-confidence, resilience and toughness. It builds the type of person who can handle a curve ball. Life is full of disappointments, obstacles and curve balls. The skills one learns by working helps you deal with the real world.”

Be a servant. “Be in service to others. You’re there to make a difference. You’re there to help other people achieve their goals and get what they want.”

Show gratitude. “Don’t walk past people. Recognize them. Be polite to every single person. Hold doors open. Thank your servers. Go explicitly out of your way to say thank you and show appreciation.”

Be prepared. “Don’t live your life for the 80 people who say ‘no.’ Know that the ‘maybe’ is just around the corner. Be ready for the opportunity when someone is willing to listen.”

Build resilience. “Overcome the limits you put on yourself. It’s not based on the obstacles people throw at you. It’s based on how you internalize the obstacles. And how you find strength and resilience and toughness from them.”

When values take over. Early in his [Bill’s] career, a customer wanted him to give them free stuff in order to get their business. He’d worked hard for the sale. He deserved the sale, and he needed the sale to be #1 in the country. “But my values took over, and I walked away. They chased me down and he apologized. We did the deal”

Never give up your character for anything. “You can’t just think about winning. You have to win the right way. Otherwise, it will never feel good. Fight the good fight – with a solid moral compass, and ultimately, you don’t become just a fighter, you become a winner.”

Get stronger. “You’re going to get hit with a lot of thunder bolts, and you can’t be the person you are today, without enduring the inevitable hard times, and finding a way to get through them.”

Know the difference. What’s the difference between you and other people? “It’s one thing. I want it so much more than they do.”

Have faith. “I believe my destiny is in God’s hands, but punching over my weight class is up to me.”

The assist: “I learned a great lesson from my dad, during a basketball game. After I made the final lay-up and won the game, my dad asked what was wrong with that play? I didn’t see anything wrong until he pointed out there had been a guy open. It’s more important to your team to know that you gave the ball up, when your teammate had an open shot for the winning basket. That’s how it plays out. That’s teamwork, that’s leadership. That’s who you are.”

My biggest takeaway: “Choose your leaders wisely.”

If you’re as inspired by Bill’s leadership as I am, you can learn more about him in his interview with the CEO of Imperative, Aaron Hurst: “How SAP’s CEO Bill McDermott Is Using Empathy To Build More Powerful Teams.”

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