Avoiding Executive Pitfalls

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In Forbes recent article Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful CEOs“, contributor Eric Jackson provides a wonderful rendition of the foibles of several CEOs that ultimately led them and their companies to catastrophic results. While he talks about the epic falls of Enron, Tyco, Rubbermaid and others, his outline rings with the truth of insight and hindsight.

What can we do as entrepreneurs in order to to avoid these same trials? Here’s an outline of some things we should contemplate based on Jackson’s Seven Habits:

1. Never underestimate the role of competitors, chance and circumstance in your business. Invest time to scrutinize your decisions and direction and to contemplate both best and worst case scenarios – showing respect for influences outside of your control.

2. Create clear boundaries between your personal and business interests. Ask your yourself “who” you are. If your answer is: “CEO of _____________ company,” you may want to evaluate to what extent your ego and interests are tied to your company. Putting personal expenses in your business expense account is another sign something is amiss. Take a step back and look more closely. In the words of Jackson: “It’s a slippery slope… a question of character.”

3. You don’t have all the answers, so avoid acting out the role of all seeing and all knowing CEO. You’re in the Board Room and all eyes turn to you for the answer. You summarize, make assumptions and decide on a course of action. Do you have all the facts? Have you thought through the various iterations/effects of this decision? Do you actually have the answer or do you “need” to have the answer as a sign of confidence? Do you have true followers or “yes men”?

4. Encourage thoughtful debate and collaborative decision-making. While this sounds a lot like number 3, CEOs that don’t practice this experience significant departures from their executive teams. Let’s face it, if everyone in the world thought alike, life would be boring and simple. Celebrate your differences, use the variety of opinions and ideas to strengthen your organization rather than alienate good talent.

5. Share the limelight. If you need to be the sole spokesperson for the company and you are all about public image over performance, you can line up with the likes of Tyco and Enron. Reward substance, not hype. Elevate your team and focus on business fundamentals. You may be surprised at the results.

6. Make your strategic plan a living document. We spend significant time and money on developing strategic plans that end up on the shelf. These plans contemplate market forces, core competencies, business threats and opportunities (in their most simple form). By continually updating and reminding yourself of the basis for your Vision, you can ensure that the implementation moves forward effectively. If you do not, you may “share a habit of plunging full-steam into the abyss.”

7. Tried and true methods don’t always work – expand your horizons. If tried and true methods always worked, I certainly wouldn’t be wasting my time sharing this blog… Are you using social media techniques driven by those younger, faster, in touch and more adept? We sometimes believe the “old” methods are best, but we forget to adapt our thinking to changing times and technologies. My advice… listen to your children and get their opinion.

Happy New Year



About the Author:

Michael Steele holds more than 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, consultant and a senior executive. He focuses on strategic and business development, business analysis, organizational systems, and marketing-communications with proven success in business start-ups and turnaround situations.

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