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CTO Greatness

"The only way to do great work is to love what you do." - Steve Jobs


Greatness is not a function of circumstance. It is a function of determination and choice. As a CTO, mastering the journey from good to great is crucial for achieving long-term success in today's competitive landscape. Understanding the importance of pushing beyond mediocrity and striving for excellence sets exceptional CTOs apart.

This chapter explores the qualities and characteristics of great CTOs and delves into the journey from good to great. You learn that greatness is not just about achieving better performance but about sustained excellence over time. It is about embracing new ideas, embodying the qualities of a Level 5 leader, and pushing ourselves to be the best we can be.

"Greatness is not a destination, it is a journey. And the journey is what matters most." - Satya Nadella

Good Is Not Enough

In today's highly competitive industry, simply being a good CTO is no longer sufficient to stand out. To truly distinguish ourselves and make a lasting impact, you must go above and beyond expectations and constantly strive for excellence. This entails not only innovating and improving, but also consistently surpassing our customers' expectations. Your goal is not just to be on par with our competitors but to establish ourselves as leaders in our field.

Transitioning from being good to becoming great is not solely about achieving better performance in the short term; it's about maintaining a high level of excellence over an extended period. It's the difference between being a one-hit wonder and consistently delivering exceptional results that leave a lasting impression.

In today's fiercely competitive landscape, you cannot settle for being merely good as CTO. Companies must aim for greatness. Those who are content with mediocrity run the risk of being left behind by those who are constantly striving for improvement and pushing the boundaries.

"The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra." - Sundar Pichai

True greatness is not just about achieving success; it's about adopting and embodying certain qualities and characteristics of a next-level CTO that set you apart.


Adaptability is a crucial trait that enables both individuals and companies to navigate through various situations and confront challenges head-on effectively. By being adaptable, one can seize new opportunities and stay ahead in a rapidly changing world. It is essential to acknowledge that individuals who are inflexible and resistant to change may need help to keep up and risk being left behind.

Those who embrace change and demonstrate a willingness to adapt are more likely to flourish and accomplish remarkable feats. It is important to actively seek opportunities to step out of your comfort zone and explore new avenues. Remaining receptive to fresh ideas and alternative approaches is vital, as they can provide valuable insights and foster growth. Being prepared to make necessary adjustments or changes, also known as pivoting, is a fundamental aspect of adaptability. By being adaptable, individuals and organizations can position themselves for success and achieve greatness in an ever-evolving landscape.

Albert Einstein, the renowned physicist, is an illustrative example of the power of adaptability. Throughout his career, Einstein demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt and embrace new ideas, leading to groundbreaking discoveries and advancements in the field of physics.

To address these discrepancies, Einstein embarked on a journey of exploration and adaptation. He challenged the existing framework of physics and developed a new theory that accounted for the curvature of spacetime caused by massive objects. This theory of general relativity revolutionized our understanding of gravity and laid the foundation for modern cosmology.

Einstein's ability to adapt his thinking and challenge established beliefs was essential to his scientific achievements. His willingness to question existing theories and explore new possibilities allowed him to make groundbreaking discoveries that transformed our understanding of the universe.

"The measure of intelligence is the ability to change." - Albert Einstein

Einstein's example serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of adaptability in the pursuit of greatness. By embracing change and continuously adapting our thinking and approaches, we open ourselves up to new possibilities and opportunities for growth and innovation.


By thinking outside the box and being creative in finding solutions, individuals and companies can break through barriers and reach new heights of success. Embracing innovation requires a forward-thinking and visionary mindset. It means taking risks, trying new things, and being willing to fail to learn and grow. Innovation is about developing new ideas and implementing them practically to drive results.

Innovation allows individuals and companies to challenge conventional thinking and explore uncharted territories. It encourages the exploration of untapped potential and the discovery of novel approaches. By fostering a culture of innovation, organizations can promote an environment where ideas are valued and experimentation is encouraged. This leads to the development of groundbreaking products and services that can disrupt industries and revolutionize the way we live and work.

Embracing innovation opens doors to collaboration and partnerships. By seeking out diverse perspectives and leveraging the collective intelligence of a team, new and innovative solutions can be created. Collaborative innovation brings together different skill sets and expertise and promotes a culture of continuous learning and improvement. The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment.

One illustrative example of the power of innovation is Elon Musk. Musk is a visionary entrepreneur known for his groundbreaking companies such as SpaceX, Tesla, and Neuralink. He has revolutionized multiple industries through his innovative ideas and relentless pursuit of technological advancements.

With SpaceX, Musk aimed to reduce the cost of space exploration and make human colonization of Mars a reality. Through innovative engineering and reusable rocket technology, SpaceX has achieved remarkable milestones, including launching the first privately funded spacecraft to orbit the Earth and successfully landing reusable rockets. Musk's vision and commitment to innovation have significantly disrupted the space industry and paved the way for future space exploration.

Another example of Musk's innovative mindset is his work with Tesla. With the goal of accelerating the transition to sustainable transportation, Musk spearheaded the development of electric vehicles that combine cutting-edge technology, performance, and sustainability. Tesla's innovative approach to electric vehicles has revolutionized the automotive industry and set new standards for energy efficiency and design.

Elon Musk's example illustrates the transformative power of innovation. By pushing the boundaries of what is possible and challenging conventional thinking, Musk has revolutionized industries and inspired others to embrace innovation as a driving force for change.

"The best leaders don't set out to be a leader, they set out to make a difference." - Simon Sinek


Taking personal responsibility involves assuming ownership of our actions and being answerable to both ourselves and others. It encompasses fulfilling our commitments and embracing our achievements. Demonstrating accountability also entails being truthful with ourselves about our capabilities and limitations. By recognizing areas where we can enhance ourselves, we can proactively address them and evolve into improved individuals. This heightened self-awareness serves as a catalyst for personal growth and advancement.

When we take personal responsibility, we acknowledge that we have the power to shape our own lives and make choices that align with our values and goals. We understand that our actions have consequences and that we have the ability to create positive change. By taking ownership of our actions, we become more empowered and in control of our own destinies.

Personal responsibility goes beyond our individual actions. It extends to how we interact with others and the impact we have on the world around us. When we take responsibility for our actions, we strive to treat others with respect and empathy. We understand that our actions can have a ripple effect, influencing the lives of those around us. By being accountable for your behavior, you can foster positive relationships.

Taking personal responsibility also means being proactive in our personal and professional development. We actively seek opportunities for growth and improvement, whether through acquiring new skills, seeking out mentors, or pursuing further education. We understand that personal growth is a lifelong journey, and we are committed to continually evolving and expanding our knowledge and abilities.

Personal responsibility involves being adaptable and resilient in the face of challenges and setbacks. You understand that obstacles are a natural part of life, and rather than dwelling on them, you approach them with a solution-oriented mindset. You embrace change and view it as an opportunity for growth and learning. By being adaptable, you can navigate through uncertain times and emerge stronger and more resilient.

Ultimately, taking personal responsibility is a mindset and a way of life. It requires self-reflection, self-discipline, and a commitment to growth and improvement. When we embrace personal responsibility, we become the drivers of our own lives, capable of achieving our goals and creating a positive impact in the world.

One great leader who emphasized the power of accountability is Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric (GE). Welch is widely recognized as one of the most successful and influential business leaders of his time. Under his leadership, GE experienced significant growth and transformation. He implemented a performance management system known as 'Rank and Yank' which involved evaluating employees' performance and regularly removing the bottom 10% of performers. This approach emphasized individual accountability and created a culture of high performance and continuous improvement throughout the organization.

Welch firmly believed in holding himself and his team accountable for results. He set clear objectives and expectations, ensuring that everyone understood their roles and responsibilities. He encouraged open and honest communication, fostering a culture of transparency and ownership. By emphasizing accountability, he created a sense of personal responsibility among his employees.

He believed that when individuals take ownership of their work and are accountable for their actions, they are more likely to deliver exceptional results. Welch's focus on accountability and performance-driven culture contributed to GE's success during his tenure. The company became one of the world's most valuable and admired corporations, achieving consistent growth and profitability.

"Control your own destiny or someone else will." - Jack Welch


It takes a tremendous amount of grit, perseverance, and unwavering determination to truly distinguish yourself from the average and ascend to the ranks of greatness. When you wholeheartedly dedicate yourself to putting in the necessary effort, you will not only witness the tangible rewards that accompany it, but you will also experience profound personal growth.

Working diligently not only aids in achieving your goals, but it also fosters the development of invaluable qualities such as resilience, fortitude, and an unyielding work ethic, all of which are indispensable on the path to success. Moreover, the journey of hard work need not be a solitary one. By actively collaborating and synergizing with like-minded individuals who share your aspirations and values, you can create an environment that not only enhances the enjoyment of the process but also amplifies your overall productivity and effectiveness.

A great leader who exemplified diligence is Thomas Edison. His tireless dedication and unwavering work ethic propelled him to achieve remarkable success as an inventor and entrepreneur. Edison's most famous invention, the practical electric light bulb, required numerous experiments and countless hours of diligent work.

"Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." - Thomas Edison

Edison's diligence extended beyond his individual efforts. He built a team of skilled researchers and engineers who worked alongside him, collectively striving for excellence. His leadership style fostered a culture of hard work, perseverance, and a relentless pursuit of innovation.

By embodying diligence, Thomas Edison demonstrated the power of unwavering dedication and persistence. His extraordinary achievements serve as an inspiration to leaders and innovators, reminding us of the transformative impact that can be achieved through diligent and determined effort.


Perseverance is defined as the persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. The tech industry is filled with examples of leaders who persevered in the face of daunting challenges and obstacles.

Perhaps one of the most famous examples is Steve Jobs. Apple's co-founder and former CEO was fired from the company he helped create, but he refused to give up on his vision for the company. He started a new company called NeXT and eventually returned to Apple, leading the company to incredible new success.

Perseverance is an incredibly remarkable quality that enables individuals and companies to continue moving forward, even in the face of numerous obstacles and setbacks. It is this extraordinary ability to persist and not give up, which sets apart those who achieve remarkable success from those who surrender to the difficulties they encounter. The concept of persistence can be quite challenging and demanding, as it necessitates a highly resilient and determined mindset.

It entails skillfully navigating through incredibly tough and challenging times, while never losing sight of your ultimate goals and aspirations. It involves the essential task of embracing failure as an invaluable learning experience and using it as a crucial stepping stone towards achieving even greater success in the future.

"I'm convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance." - Steve Jobs


Resilience is a fundamental mindset that goes beyond simply avoiding failure. It is about embracing setbacks and transforming them into valuable learning opportunities. When confronted with challenges, staying determined and persevering through tough times is crucial. Resilience is the key differentiator between those who give up and those who ultimately succeed. It empowers individuals and companies to keep pushing forward, even when faced with adversity.

Resilience plays a vital role in personal and professional growth. It allows individuals to understand their strengths and weaknesses better, enabling them to adapt and improve. Resilience fosters creativity and innovation, encouraging individuals to think outside the box and find alternative solutions to problems.

Resilience is essential for long-term success. Companies prioritizing resilience are better equipped to navigate uncertainty and thrive in challenging environments. They are more adaptable and agile, allowing them to seize opportunities and overcome obstacles. Resilient companies inspire confidence in their employees, customers, and stakeholders, creating a positive reputation and fostering loyalty.

By actively cultivating resilience, you can overcome obstacles, surmount difficulties, and ultimately achieve your goals. It is a continuous process of self-reflection, learning, and growth. Embracing resilience not only leads to personal and professional development but also contributes to a more resilient and prosperous society as a whole.

Abraham Lincoln's life is a true testament to resilience. Born into a humble family, suffering from chronic depression and facing numerous hardships throughout his life, Lincoln's journey to greatness was marked by resilience and unwavering determination. Despite experiencing multiple failures, including failed businesses and political setbacks, Lincoln never gave up on his dreams and aspirations.

Lincoln's resilience not only shaped his own life but also had a profound impact on the nation. His ability to navigate through adversity, maintain his moral compass, and lead with integrity inspired countless others. Lincoln's story serves as a reminder that resilience is key to overcoming obstacles and achieving greatness, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

"The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." - Abraham Lincoln


Learning is crucial for achieving greatness. Being proficient in your work is not merely sufficient; you must consistently exert effort to enhance and broaden your knowledge and skills. Doing so exposes yourself to fresh opportunities and fosters personal growth. Expanding your knowledge and abilities can significantly boost your confidence, enhance your decision-making capabilities, and stimulate your creativity. It enables you to remain updated with the latest trends and advancements in your industry or field.

Gaining insights and guidance from those who have already trodden the path can be of immense value. A supportive network of mentors can assist individuals in navigating through challenges and obstacles while also serving as a sounding board for novel ideas and strategies. One of the key advantages of mentorship lies in the opportunity to receive valuable feedback and constructive criticism. Mentors possess the ability to offer a unique perspective on problems and demonstrate methods for improvement. They can serve as exemplary figures, inspiring individuals to aspire for excellence and unlock their full potential.

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and one of the world's most successful entrepreneurs, has a well-known habit of taking off-time to read. Despite his incredibly busy schedule, Gates prioritizes reading and dedicates a significant amount of time to it.

Gates believes that reading is essential for gaining knowledge, expanding one's perspective, and fostering personal growth. He has spoken about how reading helps him to think critically, explore new ideas, and make informed decisions. Gates reads books from various genres, including fiction, non-fiction, science, history, and biographies.

To manage his reading habit effectively, Gates sets aside specific time slots in his daily routine for reading. He also carries a book with him wherever he goes, ensuring that he can read whenever he has a spare moment. This habit allows him to make the most of his downtime and maximize his learning opportunities.

By prioritizing reading and continuously seeking knowledge, Bill Gates exemplifies the importance of lifelong learning and personal development. His dedication to reading not only enriches his own understanding but also serves as an inspiration for others to cultivate a habit of reading and continuous learning.

"Leaders must be learners first." - Bill Gates


Having a positive mindset can truly make a significant impact when it comes to achieving greatness. By adopting a can-do attitude when faced with challenges, we are not only more likely to find effective solutions but also to overcome any obstacles that may come our way successfully. The power of positive thinking has been extensively researched and proven to have numerous benefits. It enhances our overall performance and boosts our resilience in the face of adversity.

Maintaining a positive mindset helps us combat the detrimental effects of negative self-talk and limiting beliefs, which often hinder our progress and prevent us from realizing our true potential. By embracing optimism and cultivating a positive outlook, we open ourselves up to endless possibilities and pave the way for personal growth and success.

Research has consistently found that individuals who adopt a positive mindset and maintain an optimistic outlook are more likely to succeed in their personal and professional lives. This positive mindset allows individuals to effectively cope with failure, setbacks, and challenges and enables them to bounce back and overcome adversity with greater resilience. By fostering a positive outlook, we can create a powerful and virtuous cycle of success and accomplishment that propels us toward greatness and unlocks our full potential.

One illustrative example is Nelson Mandela. Despite enduring 27 years of imprisonment for his activism against apartheid in South Africa, Mandela remained optimistic and positive. He believed that forgiveness, reconciliation, and unity were crucial for achieving lasting peace and progress in the country. He promoted a message of hope, forgiveness, and understanding, which helped heal the wounds of apartheid and unite the nation.

Mandela's positive mindset and unwavering belief in the power of love and forgiveness inspired millions around the world. He demonstrated that even in the face of immense adversity, maintaining a positive attitude and seeking common ground can bring about profound change.

"The positive energy you put out into the world will come back to you." - Oprah Winfrey


It's not enough to simply have goals and aspirations; you must also take proactive steps toward making them a reality. This means actively engaging in actions and behaviors that align with your goals and consistently working towards achieving them. By taking action, you demonstrate your unwavering commitment to success and show that you are fully dedicated to doing whatever it takes to turn your dreams into reality.

Being proactive and taking the initiative also brings with it a multitude of benefits. It allows you to stay constantly ahead of the curve and proactively anticipate any challenges or obstacles that may arise along the way. This proactive mindset empowers you to take control of your life and make informed decisions that will positively shape your future.

Taking proactive steps toward your goals helps you build a sense of momentum and progress. Each small action you take brings you one step closer to achieving your desired outcomes, which in turn provides a tremendous amount of motivation and fulfillment. The satisfaction of seeing tangible progress and knowing that you are actively working towards your goals is immensely rewarding and can fuel your drive to keep pushing forward.

Proactive people take full responsibility for their lives and understand that they have the power to shape their own destiny. Rather than placing blame on external factors such as circumstances, conditions, or conditioning, they recognize that their behavior is a direct result of the choices they make. By acknowledging this, proactive individuals empower themselves to overcome challenges and create positive outcomes regardless of their current circumstances.

Stephen Covey emphasizes the importance of being proactive in his book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." He describes proactivity as the ability to take initiative and responsibility for our own lives, rather than being driven solely by external circumstances. Covey believes that proactivity is a fundamental mindset that empowers individuals to be proactive problem solvers, effective communicators, and responsible decision-makers. By being proactive, you can break free from the constraints of our past and create a future that aligns with your aspirations.

"I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions." - Stephen Covey

By embracing proactivity, we can become active participants in our own lives and take control of our personal and professional growth. It allows us to overcome obstacles, seize opportunities, and shape our own destiny. Proactivity is a key ingredient in the journey from good to great, enabling us to achieve greatness by actively pursuing our goals and making a positive impact in the world.

Level 5 Leadership

Level 5 Leadership is a concept introduced by author Jim Collins in his book 'Good to Great.' It refers to leaders with a rare combination of personal humility and professional will. These leaders are not flashy or charismatic but relatively quiet and reserved. They put the organization's needs before their own and work tirelessly to ensure success.

According to Collins, Level 5 Leaders can drive a company from good to great because they can inspire and motivate their team to achieve greatness. They create a culture of discipline and focus on achieving long-term results rather than short-term gains. They also dare to make difficult decisions that may not be popular but are necessary for the company's success.

For example, Werner Vogels as Amazon's CTO exhibits many Level 5 leadership traits. Despite being one of the key people behind one of the largest tech companies in the world and the godfather of public cloud computing, he is known for his humility and openness to learning.

Level 5 is the highest level of leadership you should aim for. It combines personal humility with an indomitable will. These leaders are humble yet fearless, often described as quiet, modest, and even shy; they possess a strong drive towards their organizational goals.

Humility: What defines a humble person is their ability to demonstrate modesty. They tend to avoid seeking public adulation and are never boastful. Humble leaders tend to be self-aware and genuinely desire to learn from others. They are open to feedback and criticism and use it as an opportunity to grow and improve themselves. Humility also involves a sense of perspective, recognizing one's limitations, and acknowledging that others may have strengths and abilities that surpass one's own. Humility is about recognizing and valuing other people's contributions and being able to work collaboratively towards a common goal.

Motivation: Intrinsic motivation is an internal drive that compels individuals to take action to achieve their goals, regardless of external rewards or pressures. It is characterized by an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results. Leaders with intrinsic motivation often have a deep passion for their work and find joy in achieving their goals. They are self-directed and take responsibility for their success, rather than relying on external factors to motivate them. They tend to be more creative and innovative in problem-solving, as external constraints or expectations do not limit them. Overall, intrinsic motivation is a powerful force that can help individuals succeed personally and professionally.

Group-oriented: Their primary goal is to contribute to the organization's overall success rather than pursue their interests. They strive to work collaboratively with others, share credit for wins, and take collective responsibility for failures. Group-oriented CTOs are often more focused on building and maintaining positive relationships with their colleagues than advancing their careers at the expense of others. They understand that a strong sense of teamwork and cooperation is essential for achieving long-term success, and they prioritize these values in their work and interactions with others.

Acknowledgement: A CTO who acknowledges the work of others promotes a culture of collaboration. It sends a clear message that every team member's input is valued, encouraging more collaborative efforts in the future. Giving credit where credit is due also helps build trust within the team. It shows your integrity and fairness, which can strengthen the faith your people have in you. It demonstrates your humility and ability to put the team's success above your own. When team members see that their contributions are acknowledged, they may feel more comfortable sharing innovative ideas or solutions.

Perfection Trap

The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement. Strive for greatness, not perfection. While it is admirable to strive for perfection, the reality is that this pursuit can often result in a great deal of time and energy being expended on a single task or project, ultimately delaying the completion of other important tasks or projects.

Sometimes, focusing on achieving something excellent or sufficient may be more beneficial than waiting indefinitely for the perfect solution. This is not to say that striving for excellence should not be a goal but should be balanced with the need for timely and effective action.

Advocating progress over perfection, you emphasize that good results achieved in the present can always be improved upon. By taking action and progressing towards a goal, even if the results are imperfect, one can learn from the experience and continue improving their work over time. In this way, progress becomes an iterative process, with each step building upon the last towards a constantly evolving and improving result.

"Greatness is not found in some distant place, but within you." - Eckhart Tolle


Striving for greatness is essential in today's competitive market. Being a good CTO is no longer enough; you must exceed expectations and strive for excellence. This requires embracing innovation and new ideas, constantly improving and exceeding customer expectations, and setting yourself apart. Going from good to great is about achieving better performance and sustained excellence over time. By embodying the qualities of a level 5 leader, such as humility, motivation, and a focus on teamwork, you can inspire and motivate your team to achieve greatness.

Innovation is a key driver of greatness. Embrace change, take risks, and be willing to fail to learn and grow. Seek mentors who can provide invaluable insights and guidance on your journey toward greatness. Be flexible and adaptable, ready to adjust to new challenges and opportunities. Hold yourself accountable for your actions and take ownership of your success.

Striving for greatness requires courage and determination. It means pushing beyond your comfort zone and embracing the unknown. It means challenging the status quo and pursuing excellence in everything you do. Going from good to great is not an easy journey. It is a journey of growth, learning, and personal development. Embrace the challenge, believe in yourself, and have the courage to pursue greatness.


As a CTO ask yourself the following:

  1. What innovative strategies can you implement to go beyond being a good CTO and strive for greatness in your field?

  2. How can you foster a culture of continuous improvement and exceed customer expectations as a CTO?

  3. What steps will you take to embody the qualities of a level 5 leader and inspire your team to achieve greatness?


Your takeaways from this chapter:

  1. The importance of striving for greatness as CTO.

  2. Embrace innovation and new ideas to drive continuous improvement and exceed customer expectations.

  3. Foster a culture of collaboration and teamwork to inspire and motivate your team.

  4. Seek mentors who can provide invaluable insights and guidance on your journey toward greatness.

  5. Be flexible and adaptable, ready to adjust to new challenges and opportunities.

  6. Hold yourself accountable for your actions and take ownership of your success.

  7. Embrace change and be willing to take risks to learn and grow.

  8. Challenge the status quo and pursue excellence in everything you do.

  9. Push beyond your comfort zone and embrace the unknown.

  10. Believe in yourself and have the courage to pursue greatness.


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