Mike O’Neill (the chief executive of BMI) in “The Corner Office”

Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Mike O’Neill , the chief executive of BMI, says his former job as a lifeguard taught him the importance of paying attention. To read the complete interview, check out other articles, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

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What were your early years like?

I grew up in Oceanport, N.J. It’s the same town I live in now. I have three brothers and a sister. We all live there still, except for my younger brother, who moved 20 minutes south. He was a little bit of a rebel.

Being the middle child allowed me some freedom, because I was building bridges between the younger two and the older two. I got to play in that vacuum a little bit, which allowed me to be somewhat independent and creative.

If I needed attention, I had to work to get it, whether it was through athletics, doing well in school or having conversations with my parents about the events of the day.

My parents had a few rules that allowed us to be independent as kids. We had to watch each other’s backs and trust each other, and we also had to respect everybody else and be accountable. They gave us a lot of room. They were the opposite of helicopter parents.

What are some key leadership lessons you’ve learned?

You can’t treat everybody the same. People are different. You can have a tendency to think everyone’s going to receive information or react to it like you would, and they’re not. That was a key insight for me.

There was also a learning curve around the idea that I might get information at a point in time and start acting on that. But there’s a whole group of people who don’t have that information, so you have to distill it for them, and get them on the same page in order to move forward.

What are some specifics about your culture?

One of my favorite things when we go into a staff meeting is to say: “Anybody waiting on a call? Is there an emergency? If not, turn your phones off. We’re here for 35 minutes to an hour, whichever it may be. We can focus for that. If you have something that’s time sensitive, you can step out of the room and do it, but just let us know beforehand.”

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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times’ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews of hundreds of business leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.

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