Over the years, I’ve worked with many CEOS – mostly great ones and a few not so great. Here are three annoying habits they all display at times and how you can deal with them.
ANNOYING HABIT #1: Every idea is the CEO’s
My first experience of this phenomenon came at home. Being the bright and generous person she is, my wife occasionally shares an important observation that helps me deal with life. What happens too often is that, after ruminating on it for quite awhile, I walk into the house one day and share my newfound brilliant discovery with her – except that “my” discovery is what she’d told me weeks ago!
CEOs exhibit similar behavior at times, and it may annoy you as much as it does my wife. Good CEOs are passionate about their business. They continually return to it in their thoughts, internalizing the business with all its challenges and triumphs. When you share a good idea, they may recognize its value and work to fit it into their mental model. It then becomes part of the process they use to run the business. They care most that the right ideas get acted upon, and they may not spend much time worrying about where the ideas come from.
Dealing with it
If your CEO listens to your idea, absorbs it, and repeats it later, you have two choices: take offense because you’re not being recognized for your genius, or rejoice that she listens to your thoughts and incorporates them into her thinking.
ANNOYING HABIT #2: The CEO doesn’t listen
You’re in the middle of discussing something important with your CEO, but his mind keeps wandering back to an unrelated topic. Even worse, he keeps looking at something on his computer screen while his head keeps nodding as you talk!
Why does this happen? It’s rude and it would be nice if it didn’t occur. Realize that new challenges are coming at the CEO every day. Before you walked into his office, he may have just heard a news story that could negatively impact the company’s success. If he were superhuman, he’d file that information away and give you his full attention – but he’s not superhuman. Don’t immediately conclude that the CEO finds you boring (although anything is possible).
Dealing with it
Maybe your topic isn’t passing the CEO ROI filter. In a previous post about creating content that CEOs will read, we mentioned principles to help you communicate with a CEO: (a) keep the return on their investment of time high, (b) assume they are up to speed and don’t overexplain, then (c) get to the point and get out. If you find yourself losing the CEO’s attention, you have two choices: excuse yourself and suggest a later meeting on your topic (perhaps over lunch), or go with the flow and offer to help with his overriding issue of the day, knowing that you can return to your pet topic another time.
ANNOYING HABIT #3: The CEO seems impatient
If a company were a nuclear submarine, the CEO would be the commander. However, many CEOs are also the nuclear engine, propelling the business forward with their energy and drive. Watching over every operation regardless of the competence level of her reports, the CEO never rests when it comes to ensuring progress of vital initiatives. Any obstacle that can’t be removed quickly reveals her impatience.
That doesn’t mean the CEO is a micromanager who needs or wants to hear about every detail of your project. If too much detail alerts her ROI filter, you may get tuned out or hear an expression of impatience.
Dealing with it
When sharing information with your CEO, focus on answering two key questions: (1) What are the odds that the project will finish on time? (2) What is the expected level of quality upon completion? Don’t provide unnecessary detail – she will ask for more if she needs it.
CEOs have their own peculiar ways of annoying us that result from the responsibilities they carry. No matter how your CEO annoys you, manage communication with him/her effectively and success will be yours.
In Gordon Daugherty’s recent post, he encourages company founders to be deliberate about establishing management systems, specifically in the areas of meetings, communications, and decision-making. Based on a valuable lesson I learned from a small class Andy Grove taught on performance management, I respectfully contribute an additional topic to Gordon’s list.
My first software company employer, MRI, became the first software acquisition that Intel ever made. Intel’s annual revenue then was $850 million, less than 1.5% of 2014’s $58 billion. Andy Grove, Gordon Moore, and Robert Noyce traveled to Austin to meet us face to face and to share their plans for the future. (Gordon Moore’s prediction that refrigerators would eventually have embedded CPUs baffled me, but that’s another story.)
Intel CEO Andy Grove was deeply committed to teaching effective performance management to every manager in the company. His passion derived from his belief that building a strong management culture would support continued rapid growth of the company for decades. It’s hard to argue with that when you look at the company’s history.
Having effective 1-on-1 meetings was a critical component of the process Andy taught. He emphasized three aspects:
- Purpose – In the hectic day-to-day operations of a company, many issues must be dealt with immediately. Having regular 1-on-1 meetings creates time for “important” but not “urgent” discussions that would otherwise be overlooked. Between meetings, each participant compiles a list of important, non-urgent topics.
- Scope – No topics are off-limits. The only criterion for an issue is that it be important to the employee or the manager. Career planning, an idea not yet ready for a larger discussion, the scope of a project – any topic is allowed.
- Timing – Setting the right schedule is mutually determined. The relative maturity of the person to the position is the key factor. Increasing maturity allows for less frequent meetings. I may know a job extremely well and a weekly meeting with my manager would seem like micromanagement, but if I’m transferred to another position where I have little domain knowledge and experience, a weekly meeting schedule would be welcomed!
While some management systems may need to evolve as the company grows, making effective 1-on-1 meetings part of the company’s culture will pay dividends throughout the company’s life.
“Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship, the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.” -Peter Drucker
“The only worse design than a pie chart is several of them.” -Edward Tufte
One of my favorite hobbies is oversimplifying the world, and I’ve decided to share my latest instance. Two very different kinds of thinkers exist; I call them Pie Charts and Venn Diagrams. How are they alike, how do they differ, and which one is your default thought process?
A Pie Chart is useful for gaining perspective on the distribution of a resource. It shows the relative percentage that each portion of a finite thing is allotted within the whole. While it can identify how large an opportunity is today relative to other parts, the universe could change tomorrow, e.g., the size of the pie may increase or diminish.
A Venn Diagram illustrates how two or more things are related. Are they separate? Do they overlap? If they overlap, then to what extent? The Diagram evolves as the size of each circle changes, as the degree to which they overlap grows or diminishes, or as a new circle is introduced.
How does using a Pie Chart versus a Venn Diagrams influence our imagination?
Pie Chart thinking constrains your vision to that which already exists. An everyday example is seen in political economics. Portraying the U.S. economy as a zero sum game (i.e. a pie chart) manipulates us into focusing on how someone is taking our piece of the scarce resources that constitute the pie. In business, the outcome of Pie Chart thinking is usually suboptimal. For example, when a company’s only growth option is “more of the same” or “sell harder,” a Pie Chart mindset is behind it.
Remember “think out of the box”? A Pie Chart is the box outside of which we need to think all the time, not just during brainstorming sessions at offsite retreats. Venn Diagram thinking enables you to break out of the box by forcing you to consider which of several circles you will include. The size of each circle is unbounded, and the overlap between them is dynamic. Venn Diagram thinking empowers us to envision how we can grow the pie, while Pie Chart thinking inhibits innovation by limiting our consideration of alternatives.
Understanding the difference between these two modes of thought elevates our vision. Consider the effect of Pie Chart thinking versus Venn Diagram thinking on what we choose to emphasize, on the perspective we bring, and on the outcome we experience:
Pie Charts emphasize how two things are different; Venn Diagrams encourage a search for synergy. Pie Charts constrain us to a finite perspective; Venn Diagrams encourage us to include more factors. Pie Charts divide the whole into its constituent parts; Venn Diagrams influence us to identify common interests and create unity.
How can we apply this heightened vision to lead our companies more effectively? Here are a few examples:
- Organizational Dynamics: Root out instances of narrow, self-interested departmental silos (Pie Chart) and replace them with improved collaboration and common commitment (Venn Diagram).
- Product Management: Notice when product managers focus very narrowly on their own product lines (Pie Chart) and encourage them to see consider whether the combination of their products with additional products and services can accelerate growth (Venn Diagram).
- Strategic Partnerships: When a manager is at an impasse trying to grow the business using available resources (Pie Chart), identify a compelling reason that a partnering company would share needed resources (Venn Diagram).
Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness.
–Martin Luther King Jr.
In his recent bestselling book entitled Give and Take, organizational psychologist Adam Grant divides people into givers, takers, and matchers, then analyzes how each type defines and achieves success. His descriptions and rich examples provide critical insight for CEOs into how their leadership style impacts their organization and its success.
In ten years of studying reciprocity in organizations, Grant has identified three fundamental styles. While each of us may use all three styles on occasion, we tend to use one of these primary interaction styles:
- Takers like to get more than they give;
- Givers prefer to give more than they get, and
- Matchers seek an equal balance of giving and getting.
Examples of takers abound. Although most of us possess a kind of “justice radar” protecting us from predatory types, many takers are good at hiding their true nature. The Achilles heel for takers, however, is that they can’t help themselves and eventually display evidence of their true nature. The late Ken Lay of Enron is cited as a perfect example of a taker in giver’s clothing, often able to ingratiate himself to those in a position to help him. Eventually, though, public company taker CEOs expose their attitude that they are the “suns in their companies solar systems.” Useful unobtrusive measures cited by the author are the size of the CEO’s picture in the annual report, the CEO’s overuse of first person pronouns when describing the company’s progress, and the high degree of compensation the CEO receives relative to his direct reports. For example, taker CEOs tend to earn 3 times as much as the next highest paid executive, while the multiple averages 1.5 for givers.
CEOs who are givers can be harder to detect but refreshing to find. Grant describes a number of giver CEOs who have been very successful while giving much to those around them. Jon Huntsman and David Hornik are two of a number of business leaders mentioned who have succeeded through their unselfish support of those around them.
Matchers “operate on the principle of fairness: when they help others, they protect themselves by seeking reciprocity.” You can tell you’e a matcher if you continually seek to create an even exchange of favors, rather than looking for an advantage for yourself or not keeping score at all. Often, givers become matchers when they have to deal with takers, in order to protect their interests from being bulldozed.
Which style produces the least successful people? Which style is practiced by the most successful? Surprisingly, in both instances, it’s the givers. Two types of givers emerged: selfless givers and other-focused givers. Selfless givers have “high other-interest and low self-interest… and they pay a price for it. Selfless giving is a form of pathological altruism.” Giving without any getting eventually leads to burnout. The real winners are other-focused givers. As Grant puts it, “if takers are selfish and failed givers are selfless, successful givers are otherish: they care about benefiting others, but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests.” Otherish is a term he uses to describe these winning givers who, while they aren’t selfless, they “help with no strings attached; they’re just careful not to overextend themselves along the way.”
Grant offers practical actions you can take to leverage the insight provided by the book. Here are a few:
Test Your Giver Quotient – He provides online self-assessment tools at www.giveandtake.com that you and people in your network can take to rate your reciprocity style.
Run a Reciprocity Ring – What would happen if groups of people in your organization met weekly for 20 minutes to make requests and help each other fulfill them?
Help Other People Craft Their Jobs to Incorporate More Giving – A VP at a large multinational retailers met one-on-one with each of his employees and asked them what they would enjoy doing that might also benefit other people.
Embrace the Five-Minute Favor – Ask people what they need and look for ways to help that are valuable to them but have minimal cost to you.
If you’re interested in moving your business forward using practical knowledge based upon social psychological research, you’ll find Give and Take highly thought-provoking and beneficial.
In a recent article in Small Business Trends, CEO Curt Finch of Journyx contrasts the benefits of “flow” over “multitasking” in achieving optimal employee productivity. Recent studies show that multitasking can be highly unproductive, while flow is much better:
“As defined by author and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow occurs when you enter a state of intense and effortless concentration on the task at hand. It is often referred to as ‘being in the zone,’ and employees are far more productive while in this state than at any other time.”
That made me wonder to what extent the same principle applies to CEOs and how they use their time. Most CEOs are paragons of multitasking. Each day comprises formal and informal meetings and calls that address a multitude of topics across multiple domains. A CEO friend once described it this way: “It feels like I’m walking the halls of the office and people are ripping off pieces of flesh as I walk by. At the end of the day, I’m exhausted.”
As with employees, multitasking would seem to be the natural enemy of flow for CEOs. Of course a CEO must necessarily handle more than one issue at a time, but if you continually find yourself without enough time to adequately address important but not urgent issues, multitasking may be slowing your company’s growth.
Finding uninterrupted time to consider how to grow the company is a common CEO challenge. Achieving “CEO flow” may require a level of discipline above what you’ve applied in the past. Delegating more tasks to your executive team, encouraging them to be more mutually accountable, and becoming more protective of open space in your calendar can enable you to become the chief visionary officer that your company needs.
Are you spending time in the zone that’s needed to create the right vision, or are you always multitasking?
While the latest formula or insight sells business books, most business leaders tend to find their own way, then apply and reapply principles that emerge through their experience.
James Weaver is a serial CEO who’s led multiple companies out of deep holes back to relevance and profitability. He’s one of those gifted CEO’s who quickly finds the right course of action for a failing company and leads the organization to a new and better way to operate.
When I invited him to participate in a book of CEO principles I’m assembling called Shoot the Runt, he suggested a topic immediately. In turning around companies like Gold’s Gym, James developed a mindset and process that encourages everyone in the organization to achieve their highest potential, and he was generous in sharing that process to help the book.
James found repeated success by generating a sense of accountability that drives organizations to new heights of success. Check out the latest CEO/mentor dialog called Mutual Accountability Magic that’s based on the process he’s used successfully multiple times.
Last week, I attended Austin Business Journal’s CEO awards event with Ed Trevis, CEO of Corvalent. The city’s vibrant entrepreneurial scene wouldn’t exist without talented and dedicated CEOs, and an invited group had gathered to honor Austin’s best and brightest.
Brett Hurt, CEO of Bazaarvoice, won the award for large company CEOs. His company recently went public and continues to grow at a rapid pace. Fortunately, I met Brett a couple of years ago and was later able to spend some time in his office talking about his passion – managing company culture.
In the book I’m writing called Shoot the Runt, the latest CEO/mentor dialog illustrates one example of how culture affects success. Each dialog is based on real principles from serial CEOs. I’m very grateful to Brett for providing the concept for this chapter and agreeing to help with the book.
I hope you enjoy the dialog called Lead Through Culture, and as always, your input is appreciated.
If you’re a CEO, you may have days when you’d be ecstatic to learn that instant teamwork would happen by simply asking each employee to take a pill. That day may be imminent, but recent research points to ways you can get more cooperation without prescription meds.
Paul Zak organized and leads the first doctoral program in neuroeconomics at Claremont Graduate University. In 2004, his lab discovered the role that the brain chemical oxytocin plays in enabling us to determine who to trust – the higher the level of the hormone, the greater the degree of trust. He’s worked for years to understand the connection between brain chemistry and decision-making, and how that ultimately affects our economic system.
The research around the hormone oxytocin provides a neurochemical understanding of important management principles that have evolved over the years. For example, keeping employees engaged in the outcome of the project they’re working on yields more success. Dr. Zak suggests that team leaders identify goals, establish how those goals will be reached, and put stress on each individual by explaining his/her role in achieving the group’s success. “Clear outcome measures build trust.”
Even more interesting is the work his lab has done in determining the effect that social media has on oxytocin levels in the brain. The findings show that oxytocin goes up during the use of social media, and furthermore, the precise level correlates with the subject’s perceived closeness to the person he/she is engaged with.
A video interview conducted by Harvard Business Review gives more detail. To oversimplify his conclusions, be nice to those around you. It’ll make you and your employees feel better and you’ll both produce more.
In this video interview, researcher Paul Zak describes recent findings about how oxytocin encourages cooperation in the workplace and how its level is affected by the use of social media.
The Elephant in the Room
Ever been in a conference room with multiple people where the dialog circles around without coming to closure? It eventually dawns on you that the one big issue blocking a decision isn’t being discussed. Then you realize why. Now hold that thought.
In Getting Naked, Patrick Lencioni says willing to be vulnerable is a virtue for those of us who advise CEOs and their teams. Calling out the elephant in the room is a prime example. He suggests sharing what your intuition tells you, even at the risk of being blazingly wrong. While you might experience occasional embarrassment, overcoming your fear enables you to provide far higher value over the course of your client engagement.
So, let’s pop back into that meeting where everyone is circling… the reason for lack of progress is obvious – it’s an issue that could humiliate someone or at least cause some discomfort, right? In this case, let’s say it’s a boss with an intimidating presence who has directly or indirectly made clear his or her desired outcome. Everyone else in the group knows the solution is impractical, yet they fear the CEO’s wrath or lowered respect if they point it out.
For a trusted adviser, this is a defining moment. We clearly have a moral obligation to do what’s in the best interest of our client, regardless of personal consequences. While it may be tempting to focus on staying in the CEO’s good graces, being willing and able to directly address the issue openly while maintaining and even growing rapport requires business acumen and emotional intelligence that distinguishes advisers from consultants.
How often do you get to sit in on a conversation with a room full of CEOs? That’s exactly what I did recently when I moderated a CEO Roundtable for TexasCEO and Somerset Consulting Group at the Hotel ZaZa in Dallas (great venue).
We brought together seven executives who run significant businesses in varied industries: communications, commercial construction, manufacturing, chemicals, health and fitness, franchising, and financial services. Each is a recognized leader in their respective industry, and each contributed a unique perspective on the topic of the day: how does company culture affect employee performance?
Everyone naturally agreed that an organization’s culture is a key determinant of its performance. It’s also clear that a CEO’s actions and performance are major factors in creating and preserving that culture. So, what is it that determines who is a CEO?
Having accumulated a number of accomplished CEO friends over the years, I’ve concluded it’s not something that can be taught – CEO’s are a breed unto themselves. You can gain more knowledge by taking B school classes and by reading about others’ experiences in being a CEO (shameless self-promotion), but the basic attributes that drive a classic CEO start showing up early in life:
- the need to succeed in a unique way,
- the willingness to do whatever it takes,
- a desire to have a hand in deciding what’s going on around them,
- and the courage to take responsibility for failure.
The reality of being a CEO is that it requires the level of focus, dedication, and sacrifice that most people aren’t equipped to make. If you disagree, please state your case!
[For more, check out the article about the Dallas CEO Roundtable in the May/June issue of TexasCEO magazine.]