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.
Ben Horowitz recently published a post called “The Sad Truth about Developing Executives.” In it he details the realization that, when he transitioned into the CEO role, his penchant for developing people who worked for him was no longer an asset but a liability. How can this be?
Very early in my career as a software engineer I was continually pushed into management roles. Since I loved slamming code, I resisted each time but eventually gave in because the organization needed a leader. Without formal management training, I learned valuable lessons on my own. The folks reporting to me became my responsibility, and my leadership quickly morphed into serving them rather than vice versa. My modus operandi became creating an environment in which the best and highest skills of each individual could be applied to the task at hand, training them where I could, and then filling in the rest myself in the best way possible.
The model of developing staff members isn’t bad in general, but it can be disastrous for a CEO. Horowitz lists a number of reasons why CEOs shouldn’t pursue it. Here are a few:
- Lack of skill – no CEO understands every job well enough to teach it to direct reports.
- Impact on results – the demands of the market preclude both the CEO and management team members from spending significant time training rather than applying all their effort to achieving targeted outcomes.
- Not paid to do it – “Executives are compensated for their existing ability, and therefore should not be evaluated on their potential.”
- It doesn’t work – the rest of the team will see that you are working with an underperforming player and you will not take him or her seriously because of their lack of acumen.
A serially successful CEO friend has a succinct phrase for how to deal with this a bad hire: “Shoot the runt.” He learned early on that adapting an organization because of one individual harms the organization. The critical responsibility of any CEO is getting the right person into each position, and that may include rapidly correcting a hiring mistake.
After taking over as VP of support services in a turnaround company later in my career, I learned another valuable lesson. One individual in a helpdesk group, we’ll call him John, had been at the company twice as long as his colleagues yet seemed to know half as much. His team received a constant disorganized stream of support calls, so I asked John to act as the dispatcher, taking each initial call, answering simple questions quickly, then assigning more difficult questions to the others in a way that maintained a balance of the number of calls and minimized wait times. I stressed that he had to be available during regular business hours except for his lunch break.
My second week I met with customers all over the country, including both coasts. Each day when I called in to check on John, I heard an excuse for why he got in late or he had to leave early. When I returned, I agonized over the situation for about ten days. Finally one Friday in my first month there, I called John in to let him go. I anticipated that the extremely overworked group would not be happy about losing a hand, but when I told them later that day what I’d done, I almost got a standing ovation.
The next Monday, I was handed a note written by an employee from another part of the company. As I read it in front of my boss, the president, I saw that the author was calling me an ogre for having fired John before I’d even been there a month. When I slowly looked up to see the look on my boss’s face, he smiled as he reached out his hand to shake mine and said, “Welcome to senior management!”
The title of a popular business book years ago was All You Can Do Is All You Can Do. And it’s true, but sometimes choosing the right thing to do is all-important.
The dilemma for many CEOs is that they stay so busy running the business that they end up with too little time spent thinking about how to accelerate its growth. The old saying often applies: “It’s hard to remember that the original objective was to drain the swamp when you’re up to your ass in alligators.”
Speaking recently with a highly successful CEO who’s grown and sold several companies, he speculated on what determines how open a CEO is to coaching. His experience and mine perfectly aligned: a serially successful CEO will seek input and help from friends far more often than a first-time CEO and founder. Highly successful people learn how to choose advisors they trust in order to achieve the success they desire.
The stumbling block for many a founder and CEO of an established small company is that he or she comes to believe in his/her own abilities so much that they’re unable to accept the help that would take them to the next level. No matter how passionate they may be about accelerating growth, their complete reliance upon their own judgment closes their minds to innovative ideas, even if the source is someone they trust.
If you run an established business, test yourself with these questions:
- If an experienced CEO took a deep look at my company and told me I had to make big changes in order to grow, would I be open to changing?
- If a partnering expert offered to develop an alliance strategy that could double the growth rate of my company, would I listen to learn how?
If the answer to either of these questions is no, your company may already be decelerating or it’s about to hit a bump in the road. Once that happens, it will become even harder to carve out time to consider innovative ways to grow.
Are you focused on maintaining your role as chief problem-solver in your company, or are you passionate enough about growing your company to seek help trusted friends? Sometimes all you can do, by yourself, is not enough.
Some people have more influence and impact than others, and these same people always seem to have incredible networks. They may not be wealthier or brighter than their friends, but everyone leans in when they talk and remembers what they say.
What’s their magic? Having spent decades observing highly influential friends and acquaintances in my business network, here are a few thoughts about habits that increase influence:
Check Your Ego – How long do you want to interact with a self-absorbed person? When a colleague needs help, be willing to sacrifice your goals for theirs. It’s not all about you; it’s about making good things happen around you.
Leave More Room – While “no plan is a plan to fail” is a good thought, it’s equally true that too tight a plan leaves no room for creativity that results in breakthrough ideas. Plan sufficiently, but leave time in your calendar for serendipity.
Pick Your Battles – When faced with a decision, ask 3 questions: Is this urgent? Is this important? Is this reversible? Realize that urgent matters far outnumber critical ones. Act on the most important matters in a timely way, then when a truly serious problem comes along, you’ll have more time and energy to address it.
Share Your Insight – When you find useful and positive information, consider who would be most helped by this knowledge, then share it with them. I’ve practiced this for years, and the instant communication we have now (email, text, social media) makes it much easier.
Keep It Cool – When panic strikes, the coolest head prevails, and influence grows. A doctor long ago taught me to start deep muscle relaxation exercises reflexively when stress arises. You too can train yourself to relax and think clearly under stress. Remember that few decisions in business are life-threatening or irreversible.
Keep the Faith – Most importantly, choose to look at things from a higher perspective, and place your faith in something beyond yourself. (Again, it’s not all about you.) Determine your purpose in life beyond making money and buying more toys, then operate with that foundation as your core. Start each day by reconnecting with that larger personal identity before the relentless battle for your consciousness begins and you’re drawn into darkness, irrelevance, or time-wasting activities.
To summarize, don’t strive to be an influential person. Instead try to deliver value in every interaction, and influence will follow.
Registration is now open for RISE Week Austin to be held May 13-17. Named a “Must-Attend 2013 Conferences for Entrepreneurs” by John Hall at Forbes, the event “offers a variety of events, including fast pitch competitions, funding forums, and talks from well-known keynote speakers.”
In a session called “Self-Fueling Partnerships” on Friday, May 17, we’ll discuss how to grow revenue and profits by leveraging the marketing clout, technology, and customer base of larger companies.
To ensure quality interactions, only 25 people are can attend each session, and savvy attenders sign up early.
See you there!
It’s been three years since the launch of 20/20 Outlook as an advisory service for CEOs, and I’ve been blessed with wonderfully rewarding and interesting experiences along the way. By acting as a sounding board for creative business leaders and helping them get clarity about their purpose, value, and relationships, each one has accelerated the quest to achieve his/her business vision.
Recently, Brad Young came into the 20/20 fold as another trusted CEO advisor, bringing with him a whole new set of gifts and talents. His major focus is on initiatives that complete strategies with flawless execution.
Our client discussions cover every aspect of each business, and we often discuss areas of personal challenge and growth. Similar to traditional executive coaching, building trusted CEO relationships has enabled discussions of their strengths and weaknesses, passions, and even the personal search for meaning and purpose. A side benefit that clients have cited is more effective communication with board members, leading to more productive relationships.
Along the way, a wonderful network of people has evolved around us. Each one has generously supported 20/20’s steady growth with introductions and recommendations, suggestions for new offerings, adoption of 20/20 processes, and partnering to help clients. Because of this network, LinkedIn recently recognized my profile as among the top 1% frequently viewed profiles in 2012.
To our friends and colleagues, thank you for your continuing support!
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.
Freakishly cold weather meant waking up to no electricity this morning. Having to break two early appointments due to temperatures in the teens gave me time to think, and I remembered that it was exactly a year ago when I filed the papers establishing 20/20 Outlook LLC.
Moving beyond 30 years of mostly C-level jobs has been exciting, challenging, and gratifying. The exciting part is meeting many fascinating and gutsy people who are willing to take chances in order to follow their dreams. The past year’s challenge has been building a personal brand around what I do. Gratification comes from seeing how the 20/20 Outlook process resonates with CEOs and others who hear about it.
I’m thankful for having experienced a wide variety of responsibilities over the years. Most of the time I knew I had the best job in the company. While I was building strategic partnerships at the world’s fastest-growing networking company, the CEO’s verbal job description was “go make good things happen and keep me posted.” I learned from experts how to formulate business plans and implement integration plans successfully from arguably the most successful software acquisition company ever. A billion-dollar company recruited me to lead product direction for their 100+ software products and help transition from independent product lines to solutions. In between, I helped grow business for half a dozen startups.
Now I’m given the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned and draw on the wisdom of people I know by advising CEOs of small- and medium-size companies on new growth strategies. Helping them move beyond the “CEO dilemma” and into new levels of business activity is the dream. Working with truly courageous people every day and seeing them succeed in moving to the next level is more a gift than a job.
The move to share the 20/20 Outlook process is accelerating in 2011!
First, we were asked to develop a sidebar article for the cover feature of the Jan/Feb issue of TexasCEO magazine. Watch for a notification here when it’s available, plus a tweet and a LinkedIn update. (By the way, the twitter name is @2020outlook, and buttons for email, LinkedIn, Skype, RSS, and twitter can be found in the upper right corner of the 20/20 Outlook web site.)
Secondly, chapters of a book in process will soon start showing up on a new blog site that’s under development. Each chapter will feature a dialog between a new CEO and their mentor, with each conversation based on a principle contributed by a different serial CEO friend.
After leading companies to success for years, serial CEOs develop valuable principles that don’t often make it into business school classes. Having repeatedly seen the same situations and outcomes, he/she develops “intuition” in the form of simple rules of thumb for how to handle specific business circumstances.
This new site will help aspiring business leaders manage and grow their businesses by absorbing simple yet profound lessons from successful serial CEOs. It offers these CEOs a chance to give back by sharing these precious principles with new and aspiring business leaders. Written in the form of a dialog between a new CEO and their mentor, some are amusing and some are painful, yet each offers a valuable lesson about managing a business to new levels of success.
Just drop an email to email@example.com if you’d like to see new chapters as they emerge every few weeks. If you choose to, you’ll be able to interact with the CEOs and others who will comment on and discuss the chapters.
We ‘ll be sure and let you know when the new blog site is ready.
Happy New Year!