Editor's Note: Being the CEO or business owner can be a lonely job. It is important to get good feedback so that you can keep a balanced perspective. Below are just ten of the deadly sins that can be committed by the guy or gal at the top. I have been CEO or owner of eight companies - and I know it's not always easy to see yourself clearly. This is a reprint of a previous Issue for Growth, Volume 15, Number 12. I think it still holds true.As always, we welcome your comments. - DPM
Ten Deadly Sins of CEOs and Business Owners¹
Talking Too Much. You never learn by talking, but some CEOs imagine the world to be in desperate need of their constant wisdom. It is a rare subordinate who will risk stifling a CEO. Be inquisitive, ask questions, and listen at least 75% of the time.
Goals Are Too Aggressive. It is wonderful to have a BHOG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) or vision. It's another to develop overly aggressive goals on a routine basis. Unrealistic goals "demotivate," especially when compensation is involved. One CEO expected his company to continue its 30 percent annual growth rate, not appreciating that with a larger base and a rapidly maturing market their era of high growth in that market had to end. The result discouraged managers.
Personal Power Building is More Important than Value Building. Some CEOs tend to make decisions that enhance their scope and influence, even at the expense of increasing shareholder value. This can be paradoxically true even when the CEO is a large shareholder or the business owner. Dr Robert Kuhn puts it this way: "I want a CEO whose greed exceeds his ego. Good CEOs and business owners should be motivated more by amassing wealth for their shareholders rather than by building empires for themselves."
Not Respecting or Recognizing the Ideas of Others. CEOs and business owners can be egotistical. Highly successful almost by definition, many CEOs would seem to have every right to be self-impressed. However, when you hold the top spot, puffing yourself up at the expense of subordinates impedes the organization. You benefit when your people are encouraged and empowered to generate novel ideas. Recognition of these good ideas breeds more ideas.
Not Focusing on Accountability and Execution. Some CEOs and business owners love new ideas, programs, and initiatives. They introduce change for the sake of change. One company we looked at recently had seventeen (17) major strategies for an upcoming year. Focusing on a executing well on a few carefully selected strategies, developing clear objectives, and holding managers accountable, can be the difference to success.
Managing by Summaries. A CEO should perceive the world as it truly is; if cluttered and chaotic, so be it. When information is always "high level," predigested by staffers, a CEO may perceive an artificial world, a virtual reality as it were, of cleanly manicured lawns. Most CEOs have great instincts about their businesses, and such instincts should be nourished by raw data, like, for example, call reports of customers.
Don't Fall in Love. When you sit in the corner office, follow your head not your heart. Every business must have a strategic or financial purpose, and if a business happens to make you feel good that's fine as long as your emotional attachment doesn't interfere with your rational decision-making. CEOs are notoriously vulnerable when making acquisitions.
Feeling Invincible. CEOs must have superb track records-some are almost unblemished -so they have a proclivity to imagine themselves as invulnerable. The natural corollary is a robust confidence, even if subconscious, that past success assures future success. I can't tell you how many dozens of CEOs I've seen who refused to sell their companies at what would turn out to be, in hindsight, their peak market values, simply because they were convinced that tomorrow's prospects would mimic yesterday's triumphs. Looking backward and looking forward, a humble, healthy respect for the subtleties of serendipity is the beginning of wisdom.
Halo Hiring. In some organizations, many of the senior executives look like the CEO. I mean this quite literally and it can be very funny. Not just obvious characteristics like gender and race, but also personal traits like size and stature, political philosophy, sporting interests, demeanor, even style of dress. In a globalized world where customers and suppliers may be very different kinds of people, it is not wise for the executives of a company to be homogenous, and hence, uniform in their thinking.
Beware of Averages. Averages can deceive. For example, assume that, in a pharmaceutical company, prices are declining for one-half of the drugs and increasing for the other half; the fact that the average price of all drugs has remained steady is worse than meaningless information. Strategies for drugs that kept prices steady might not work at all with those whose prices were decreasing or increasing. The same is true for net profitability on an individual customer basis. Averages hide meaningful information. The information extremes or "skew" is your friend.
¹ Excerpted from 12 CEO Diseases and How to Treat Them, Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn, CEO Magazine, October/November 2006.