Leading From The Liberal Arts: 5 Essential Lessons

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Starbucks’ Howard Schultz has a communications degree, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield majored in philosophy, and YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki studied history and literature. But how did those liberal arts lessons and skills transfer to the business world?

We asked five successful chief executives—all members of YPO and none who were business majors—to share the leadership lessons they leveraged on their way to the top.

How to Problem Solve

“The arts have helped me to think in an abstract way, and my technical training has encouraged more exploratory problem-solving. These two combined were essential to solving a major safety problem in the health care space.” —Dan Daniels, founder, CEO and chairman of the board of Daniels Health; Degree in biological science

How to Build a Great Team

“When I’m asked about business and how I run a company without any experience, I tell them, ‘it’s not about business; it’s about people.’ When I interview (job candidates), I always ask ‘what’s your story?’ because that’s what I care about. Then I try to tie their story in with the story of the company.” —Rob Granader, CEO and founder of MarketResearch.com;Degree in English and a former journalist

How to Articulate Vision

“While I was unable to code my first few products myself, I was able to articulate a vision for what we were building to investors, customers and prospective team members. That skill was probably more important to my success than software engineering chops would have been.” —Charles Thornburgh, founder and CEO of Civitas Learning; Degree in political science

How to be Resilient

“When auditioning there are a lot of knock backs and you learn to listen, adapt, improve and try again and again. When you are performing you give 100 percent no matter what, even if you think it’s not possible.” —Emma Reynolds, founder and managing director of The Reynolds Group and a former professional dancer

How to Think Outside the Box

“We often use the expression ‘think outside of the box. What can be more outside the box than a philosopher managing a company? When I meet prospective clients and they learn that I’m a philosopher, it brings a smile to many faces.” —Kobi Tadmor, managing director of Turnowsky; Degree in Philosophy

(The article is contributed by YPO, a global community of chief executives dedicated to becoming Better Leaders through Lifelong Learning and Idea ExchangeTM. The YPO platform provides more than 24,000 members in more than 130 countries. For more information, visit www.ypo.org.)
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