Far too often, CEOs are busy doing things that diminish both their own productivity, and that of their companies.
Everyone knows that Superman’s sole weakness is a mineral called Kryptonite. If he came in contact with the substance, it would slowly drain his powers, weakening him until proving fatal. Superman knows he must avoid Kryptonite at all costs if he wants to continue fighting for “truth, justice and the American way”. Similarly, Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), albeit powerful, also are susceptible to specific poisons. Like Superman, there are certain things that savvy CEOs will avoid at all costs in order to stay strong.
So while there’s much discussion as to what leading CEOs do to make their companies profitable, innovative and successful, what about what they avoid doing?
Smart CEOs Do Not…
1. Make perfect decisions. A key to success is taking action and not deferring it until the perfect answer or complete consensus is achieved. CEOs operate in an environment that often requires them to make decisions without all of the information and facts they might want. “Paralysis by analysis” is a serious shortcoming for CEOs—the mentality that I can never have enough facts. Trying to make a decision without risk or criticism will only hold your company back.
2. Wear many hats. Successful CEOs do not resist delegating. They take the time to groom capable employees into leadership roles for each and every company function. Not only does this mitigate the odds of CEO burnout, it allows for more efficient execution and better results. In addition, delegating is a safety valve. If a CEO never returned to the office for some reason (the proverbial hit-by-bus scenario), who would know how to do those things that only the CEO does today? Aren’t we supposed to build companies that can survive and that are not dependent on any one person? Smart CEOs do not build their companies around an individual, they know they have to “delegate or die.”
“Like Superman, there are certain things that savvy CEOs will avoid at all costs in order to stay strong.”Jim Alampi3. Use PowerPoint. Unfortunately this application has become imbedded in corporate America, with too many executives using extensive slide presentations as a crutch—a terrible waste for executive teams. Anything that can be read ahead of time, before a meeting, should be. Allowing a presenter to read endless and detailed slides in meetings is not only a waste of precious time, but an insult to everyone in the room. If you must use PowerPoint, limit presentations to five slides, each with no more than five bullet points. Any resources being requested should be on slide No. 1 so that people know what the point of the presentation is up front. Smart CEOs know that time is money and that face-to-face meetings should be spent brainstorming, discussing and taking advantage of collective intelligence.
4. Answer questions. As an executive, if you allow employees to ask you questions every time they don’t know the answer, you’ll end up spending a chunk of your day doing your employees’ work for them. If a CEO has to constantly provide all the answers, why would they need subordinates? People love to get quick answers, but it’s not the CEO’s job to give them out like candy. Instead, ask questions that help subordinates think strategically and produce the answers themselves. Periodically, a CEO should keep track for a day of his or her question-answer (Q-A) ratio—how many times he or she responded with questions divided by how many times he or she gave out answers. Great CEOs have a Q-A ratio of about 20, with 20 times more questions than answers. Plus, having employees find the answers themselves allows them to grow, think more like a CEO and become leaders themselves.
5. Attend (all) meetings. You’d be shocked by how many meetings CEOs attend that turn out to be a waste of their time. While the majority of meetings do not need to be attended by the CEO, knowing which ones do is vital. Of course people would like to have the CEO attend their meeting to lend importance to it, but successful leaders jealously protect their time and opt for five- to 10- minute briefings over 60-minute meetings. It can be a growth experience to have a subordinate executive attend a meeting in your place and then brief you on what occurred.
6. Communicate. Smart CEOs over-communicate. Industry experts estimate that the average person must hear information between seven and 11 times before it becomes ingrained in memory, yet executives regularly underestimate the power of repetition. Companies that do employee surveys often find that no matter how much time they spend on communication, employees always want more. Executives should not be afraid to over-communicate the same message multiple times. Providing the same information via different channels increases the likelihood that employees will actually remember what you tell them.
The CEO’s Job Description Is…
What can’t be delegated.Some things have to be driven by a CEO, and if he or she gets bogged down by the six issues above, it means no one will be leading these critical strategic areas:
- Setting direction for the company;
- Making sure the company is hiring the right people and developing them (not doing this day to day, but making sure a company has the right people and process for talent acquisition and retention; great CEOs often spend 60 to 70 percent of their time on recruiting, developing and retaining talent);
- Making sure people have the resources necessary to do their jobs efficiently; and
- Removing large obstacles that prevent employees from accomplishing their goals.
Jim Alampi has spent 30 years helping companies overcome the barriers to business growth. Alampi is the Founder of Alampi & Associates, a Detroit-based executive leadership firm whose clients include several Fortune 500 companies. He is also the author of “Great to Excellent; It’s the Execution!” (2013) and speaks frequently to CEOs and executive teams on the topics of business strategy, human capital and executive leadership. Alampi has served as a high-level executive for several global companies. He was President and CEO of e-Chemicals, a $1.5-billion chemical distribution company; President and CEO of Insurance Auto Auctions (NASDAQ: IAAI), a $325-million company; and a Senior Executive with Univar Corp. (NYSE: UVX), a leading global distributor of specialty chemicals.