Over the past 15 years, I have had the opportunity to consult or coach a number of CEOs and C-Suite executives in numerous companies. In the vast majority of cases, the contracts all start the same way: The company’s revenues are stagnant. The CEO has tried a number of things to fix the problem, and nothing has worked. Most of my consulting gigs were a referral from a previous CEO or colleagues.
In most cases, I was able to quickly see that the reason the companies were slumping was, in part, because of the CEO. Running a major company or any endeavor for that matter is challenging. The principal is often the least appreciated, the hardest working and the most stressed. During these engagements, I would see the same challenges over and over. The CEOs don’t realize that they are the only thing holding back their companies.
Eventually, I started realizing that these subject CEOs were not unusual. In fact, they were the average CEOs. Most CEOs and principals have never taken the time or had the luxury of even having the time to focus on developing themselves. From studying my clients, I have been able to put together a list of five flaws that I saw in most of these clients. Fix these flaws, and your business will grow.
1. They don’t watch their financials.
I know this may sound overly obvious, but it is always surprising to me how many principals do not pay enough attention to their books. For larger corporations, even having a great chief financial officer does not excuse a CEO’s responsibility to know every detail of the company’s finances.
Great CEOs that I have met can instantly detail the accounts receivables, accounts payables, balance sheet, profits and losses -- at a minimum. Fiscal responsibility is crucial to success in business.
2. They don’t see themselves as an example.
One CEO that I worked with had a habit of coming in to the office between 10 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. daily and would often leave before 5 p.m. Yes, I realize this is the prize for building a great company, but these are the hours I saw being kept by the principal in a struggling company. Others appeared disheveled or generally not well.
Great CEOs realize that their leadership starts with the personal example that they give to other. I know its difficult to work on your health when you have your head down, but it is important for your subordinates to see you as a shining light.
3. They have no vision.
“In the absence of vision, the people will perish,” is an old saying that still is hugely important in growing an organization. All people have a deep sub-conscious desire to be part of something greater then they could achieve on their own. Great CEOs know this and constantly focus on a huge vision for their company.
A great vision is one that rallies everyone together. If you don’t have a defined vision for your company, get one. Then, whenever you can, remind people of it. In my current company, we have a clearly defined vision that everyone of the 51 members of our team can recite, and they get excited when they hear me talking about it.
4. They don’t recognize people.
In stagnant organizations, I always see an absence of any company-sponsored recognition program and a total lack of appreciation in the voices of principals and managers alike. A company that gets this is MyEmployees, a Castle Hayne, N.C.-based leader in the employee-recognition space and their founder / CEO David Long.
Long is a master of loving people. MyEmployees is the market leader in recognition systems and tools for big companies. Their clients include the who’s who of business. Often, we find that companies always neglect their own backyard, but not here. Long makes it his goal to give pats-on-the-back regularly, and he routinely takes rank-and-file employees out for meals and fun. They also give out formal recognition to employees on a regular basis. People will work harder when they know they are appreciated.
5. They don’t try to grow personally.
As the organization grows, so too must the leader. One of the first things I asked CEOs who bring me in to help is: What kind of books do you read? I also ask them to list three things that they have done in the past month to get better personally. It is very rare that I find a CEO who can roll those three things off their tongues without thinking. On the other hand, great CEOs are constantly working on improving themselves and getting better.
Now, there will be some CEOs and principals who dismiss my points and explain that the stagnation has more to it than that. I will always try to argue that a company is a reflection of the principal. Making sure that the CEO realizes that he or she needs to be the best they can be is the first step in building a world-class company.