Maximize Your Career Potential with These 7 Steps
July 12, 2022
I have long believed that “CEO” is more than a position, it’s a state of mind.
I know what you’re thinking—surely you must have a certain title or position to have a CEO mindset. You must lead a team, have an amount of authority or decision-making power, or have years (if not decades) of experience, right?
Based on my experience and from what I’ve observed over the years, I don’t believe this to be true. In fact, I think that anyone can, and should, adopt a CEO mindset—no matter the position you are in or the number of years on your resume.
One of the reasons I believe this is so important is that the job functions we specialize in today may not be applicable in the future. Just take my career path as an example.
Today, I lead the Financial Services Division at Capital One. But I took the most curious path to get here—from naval architecture and marine engineering in India to consumer goods in Canada then banking in America. The jobs I’ve specialized in throughout my career had nothing to do with each other. And outside of engineering, I had zero experience in any of the fields in which I worked.
Often, people think they need a checklist when moving to different industries or specialties, and they get hung up on not having the right skillset for the job. I used to think the same until I realized the product I was offering wasn’t my skillset...it was myself!
The reality is that if I had let my skillset define me, I wouldn't be where I am today. To make the jump in each of these roles, I had to adapt. I had to be the CEO of my success, even though I have never held the title of CEO.
As I’ve worked to adopt this mindset throughout my career, I also learned that no one is free of constraints—not even CEOs. However, constraints can actually be a good thing. They focus your creative problem-solving by forcing you to think in new and different ways. I see this come to life every day at Capital One, where many associates lean into this mindset to design amazing products and customer experiences while working within their constraints.
Within Capital One and companies all over the world, there are leaders—who aren’t technically CEOs—who have been wildly successful by adopting a CEO mindset. Think about a CEO you admire. While some things have changed over the years (and lessons were certainly learned), they’ve probably always had a CEO mindset. In my observation, and by working toward this in my own career, I've identified seven ways to maximize your potential and shift your thinking to CEO as a mindset.
1. Know Your Purpose
Growing up in Kolkata, I often had the opportunity of working with Mother Teresa at her orphanage. Her purpose in life was to take care of those who were the least capable of taking care of themselves. What I learned from her is, without purpose, everything else will fail. This was a huge motivator for me personally as a leader and also in transforming businesses.
Purpose is the driving force behind everything you’ll ever do. Understanding your purpose starts with understanding yourself. What you believe as an individual is incredibly important in determining your career destination because your purpose should align with your company’s purpose.
The most successful leaders know that a clear purpose is the catalyst for driving transformation. Purpose enables organizations to rise up and create incredible things. Purpose also drives individuals to stay focused on the bigger picture, motivating them to overcome the challenges that we all face in life.
2. Be Passionate
True enthusiasm for a business, its products, its people and its mission cannot be faked. Great CEOs have an eternal optimism bubbling inside them. They are passionate about what they’re working on and what makes them tick.
This passion inside of them is so strong that external demands and negativity won’t slow them down. Instead of dwelling on what’s not working or what isn’t possible, CEOs embrace challenges as an opportunity to innovate and improve.
3. Be Disciplined
Many folks stress over their constraints—budget, time, personnel, resources, working environment, autonomy, etc. They’re always working toward the next big promotion or cutting-edge role because they think their constraints will eventually dissolve and they will have “absolute power” and independence.
But as I’ve stated, everyone has constraints—even CEOs. However, people who have a CEO mindset embrace self-rule, instead of pursuing absolute power and complete independence. Self-rule means that you understand your constraints and feel empowered to make decisions within those guardrails. It also means that you have the sound judgment and maturity to recognize when you need to escalate a problem that is beyond your control.
4. Let Others Lead
Making the jump to a CEO mindset requires accepting that you can’t do everything alone! Great leadership is often demonstrated by empowering others to lead—whether that person is a peer, superior or direct report. Successful CEOs know they aren’t always the expert. They know when to take a back seat, let others showcase their talent and provide insight into their area of expertise.
It’s also important to note that this concept doesn’t just apply to leaders. In whatever role you are in, you can let others provide their perspective on your work, learn new skills and take the lead on ideas.
5. Leverage Others
Knowing it takes a team to win, CEOs leverage everyone and everything around them—for problem-solving, motivation and collaboration. They lean on their teams, delegate wisely and trust others with projects. They believe that transformative ideas can come from anyone.
Like every step in this process, leveraging others can apply to any job you have. It also applies when you face constraints because chances are that someone else has gone through the same thing. They may even have ideas on how you can innovate within the constraints and help chart your path forward.
6. Communicate and Listen
Treat your coworkers like a CEO would treat their stakeholders. Communicate clearly and carefully to them. Don’t just assume people understand—ensure you set clear expectations and continually reiterate your message. This requires patience, but it’s one of the most important parts of the job.
Equally as important is listening. CEOs have the opportunity to hear from everyone—outside parties, other innovators, regulators, peers and employees at all levels—which can cultivate fresh ideas and perspectives. And great CEOs don’t just make people feel like they are listening, they actually listen to them and care about what they are saying. That means asking for input, following up with probing questions, encouraging honest feedback and looking for opportunities to champion others’ ideas.
7. Take Care of Yourself
We tend to take care of everyone and everything around us (professionally and personally), and put ourselves last. But, physical and mental health is so critical to being successful.
Let’s take Formula One racing as an example. F1 racing is intense, and each team has hundreds of employees with various responsibilities that are critical to a successful race. Each competitor has a Team Principal, who is the primary decision-maker and the one held accountable for the overall success of the team.
Before races, the Team Principal is responsible for managing the team and ensuring everything about the car is ready and optimized before race day. The Team Principal makes the call on when the driver takes a pit stop to change the tires, and is heavily relied on by the whole team to make the best judgment at every turn.
So let’s say there’s a Team Principal who’s running around and trying to handle everything alone leading up to race day, while hardly sleeping at night. Then, there’s another Team Principal who hires good people, trusts them to do their jobs and is getting the rest needed to have a clear mind and provide the best guidance on race day. Which leader would you rather drive for?
Taking time to care for yourself will pay massive dividends in the long run. If you adopt a CEO mindset, you will understand that to bring your best work forward, you must take care of yourself. When you do, it also means that when the bumps in the road come, you’ll be in the right mindset to take them on.
Putting It All Together
These are fairly simple and intuitive learnings, but they have made such a big difference in my own life and career. I challenge you to discover your purpose and implement a few of these over the next 30 days. Keep them top of mind and make an intentional effort to improve on them. You may be surprised at the difference it makes!
As President of Financial Services, Sanjiv Yajnik has spent the last 20+ years living out Capital One’s vision to dream, disrupt and deliver a better way through overseeing the company's Auto Finance business. He is a firm believer in combining customer-back design, technology and innovative operational structures to unleash success.