Thoughts for the C-suite: CEOs, how do you measure up against the really good ones?
Published by CME Manitoba on February 14, 2018
By Kevin Lusk, CME Advanced Manufacturing & Senior Executive Leadership Champion
For every really great CEO, there are probably ten times that number of ineffective or weak CEOs occupying the C-suite. There are many paths to the C-suite: some get there because they are really good at leadership and business management and therefore have the stamp of approval from the board of directors or business ownership. Some get there because they are the next in line in the family. Some get there because they bought the business or started one. All are smart in one form or another. Great C-suite leaders; however, do more than occupy the chair and run a successful business. They are the poster person for their company’s culture, vision and operational execution.
So why do so many of those smart, educated and usually very talented C-suite occupants end up as an ineffective, weak or outright fail? What are the key differences? As I visit with great, good and not so good CEOs, here are some of the common characteristics that I encounter (which, in my opinion, separate the not so good and the mediocre from those C-suite occupants who are truly outstanding). The following are in no particular order of importance.
Lack of accountability – The company is running sloppily. Those big, important items are not getting done. The performance timetable consistently gets pushed back and as a result, the year-end is lackluster – even when the opportunity for otherwise was there. That great vision, those good ideas, remain just dreams. Execution is weak but not because there’s a lack of smarts. It comes down to a lack accountability from the CEO down. Usually, the necessary scoreboards that track the results are not up to date or worse, are completely absent. Ironically, this isn’t news to most CEOs. Usually, the CEO lacks the personal dedication, focus or maybe leadership experience to put the systems into place. C-suite occupant, if you want great output you need to first focus on practicing that accountability mindset yourself and on building those accountability team scoreboards until they are a part of your corporate culture. You also need to be accountable to someone: some board or to some peer group that you can trust like CME’s Manufacturers’ Executive Council (MEC). (By request much of my time spent with CEOs is to simply assist them by holding them accountable to execute on their own business plans.)
Poor top-down communication – CEOs have to be able to communicate on multiple levels: to other executives, to management, to employees, to the bank, to the customer, etc. Most ineffective or weak CEOs either can’t, don’t try (it’s easier to delegate) or won’t. The reasons vary, but are usually simply excuses. Key for the C-suite is taking that great vision or idea and communicating it well enough to get buy-in from your team sufficient to cause that vision to be their vision too. Most weak or ineffective C-suite occupants don’t connect on that one-to-one level to inspire their people, thus moving the vision from “mine” to “ours”. Communication first and foremost is all about building trust. It requires verbal and non-verbal communication to reinforce that you mean it. Effective communication is hard. It takes commitment, clear messaging, consistency and the energy to keep it a priority day after day. Weak or ineffective C-suite occupants can usually be identified by this lack of structured communication effort when connecting with all stakeholders. Great CEOs understand that communication alone dramatically improves leadership effectiveness. It usually can be seen as a quickening in impact both top-line and bottom-line growth.
Operational alignment failure – Following weak C-suite communication, one often sees operational alignment failure. This occurs when the management team is not pulling together in common agreement. Ineffective CEOs usually fail to put quick end to those disagreements among the management team that naturally occur, which drive internal politics. When this occurs, it’s up to the CEO to clear the air and make sure that his team is behind the business direction and strategy with no “and, ifs or “buts”, or “I’ll do it but I’ll do my part my way”. Unity is a C-suite responsibility. Make sure your performance rewards for the desired outcomes you expect in alignment with the task if you want top performance. Weak and ineffective CEOs don’t seem to appreciate the reward for performance principle, while usually great CEOs do.
Poor execution and performance – Weak and ineffective CEOs fail to make the company execute well. This failure can usually be boiled down to three essential areas: 1. Weak and ineffective CEOs either have not developed a business plan in the first place or do not have the personal discipline to follow the plan. 2. Weak and ineffective CEOs do not keep score on what matters. 3 Weak and ineffective CEOs do not have the right people to make it happen. All other things being equal (finances, opportunity, product acceptability); successful CEOs have figured it out how to put the three components together to build a successful business.
Fear of firing non-contributors – Whether a great, weak or ineffective CEO; no one likes firing team members. The team in many companies become “family”. The tough thing that great CEOs recognize is that often the people who got you to your current level, for one reason or another, are not capable of getting you to the next level. Often the company has moved on or outgrown that great person’s ability, desire to keep up or expertise. Good CEOs – like it or not – make those tough decisions to continually upgrade talent. They also know that people want to work for great companies, not stagnant ones. Keeping a team member around who’s not pulling their weight for any reason tends to drag everybody else down. Usually the team knows before the CEO that a change is necessary. Weak and indecisive CEOs are more comfortable on a personal relationship basis with the family they know. As a result, they make excuses in this area that hurt or limit their companies’ ability to be successful. Question: When was the last person you fired, a firing too soon?
Found in: Leadership C-suite