5 Things I Learned From My Grandmom About How to Become a Top Performing CEO

There’s an entire industry out there today about how to become a top-performing CEO. You can turn to MBA programs, memoirs by executives, and podcasts featuring entrepreneurs – it seems like there is no shortage of people out there willing to dispense advice on what it takes to become a more effective leader. 

However, what tends to happen in many cases is that people who want to become a top-performing CEO or executive today seem to achieve it by working 80-hour work weeks and climbing the corporate ladder.

But I learned many of my most invaluable lessons from a very different source – not from leadership gurus or by poring over Jack Welch’s memoirs…I learned them from my grandmom.

My grandmom was the most influential person in my life. She gave me many lessons to live by through her wisdom and played an active role in shaping me into the person I am today.

I’ve learned that leadership is not just about being able to make the decisions or setting strategic goals, it’s also about inspiring. It’s about having a vision for the future and making sure that your people know where you’re taking them.

Looking back now, I see how lucky I was to have a grandmom who freely shared her forward-thinking wisdom on a daily basis.

A few key lessons I learned from her were:

Lesson #1: Shift Your Focus From Achieving Success to Deserving Success

My grandmother was a person who always made sure to enjoy life’s journey. She would repeatedly remind me that outcomes will always be out of our control. 

I will always take this lesson away from our time together. She emphasized practicing and focusing on the outcome, not the practice.

Every time I told her about my direct ambition, she would reply with,

“Instead of focusing on success, focus on deserving to be successful.  If you do that well, success will come.”

Lesson #2: Working Harder is Not Smarter

Are you impressed when a leader tells you they work 60-80 hours a week? 

I’m not.

My grandmother always kept my focus on the reality that there is more to life than work.

When a leader tells me how busy they are or tells me they can’t do something that is supposedly important to them because they are too busy, I find this to be a clear red flag.

It’s a sign they can’t delegate, set priorities, or manage their time effectively. 

Being too busy for important stuff should not be a badge of honor. My hope is that the “re-set” sparked by COVID-19 will lead to a permanent shift in the culture around this thinking, but change does take time.

Take your oxygen mask first so you can then help others.

Being burnt out, too busy, unavailable, and not finding time to do the self-work and self-care needed is counter-productive.

Studies show that taking breaks and going at a pace that allows space and rest is actually far more productive.

Again, my grandmother set the tone for me here, always modeling how to rest, relax, and enjoy life.

Lesson #3: What Matters Most is Who You Matter to.

Ultimately, life is about the people we love and the relationships we forge with them.

Look around you. See who matters to you. See who you matter to. Who are you important to (in a good way)? It’s a sign of how you are doing.

Don’t get so caught up in the daily grind that you lose focus of the reality that all of our work and toiling should ultimately lead back to giving back to others around us. 

In her relationships and daily kindnesses, my grandmother gave me an outstanding model to emulate in this area.

Lesson #4: Respect the Value of Your Time.

Too often, we can waste our days away on distraction and noise.

My grandmother was great at teaching me the value of being intentional about spending one’s time.

She only rolled out the TV on very special occasions: we’re talking elections, space mission launches, historic events. The rest of the time, the TV was turned off and I was to spend my time playing actively or on homework. 

At the time, it would annoy me when I wanted to watch the shows my friends were talking about. But today, I see those time management skills as an underrated and underappreciated leadership traits.

Lesson #5: Create Space for Yourself

I learned so many of my life’s most cherished hobbies from time spent with my grandmother – hiking, reading, meditation, even eating slowly and truly savoring my meals. 

She taught me the power of carving out time in even the busiest of days for myself. And she showed me that slowing down for quiet reflection is good for the soul; journaling and meditation are far better for you than watching TV. Don’t say you don’t have the time as you finish your 2nd hour of Netflix.


My grandmother was a light of my life, helping to mold me into a better family member, leader, and person. Her wisdom stays with me to this day.

Who are some of the role models and inspirations in your life who have helped mold your approach to leadership?