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Companies rise and fall on leadership. Period. And there are five areas that top leaders tend to focus their attention. It’s no surprise that these same areas are where unsuccessful CEOs make fatal mistakes.
These are the most fatal mistakes, because by the time the CEO, board or other executives can understand what has happened, there is massive momentum heading towards a discouraging future.
Robert S. Hartman, a Nobel Prize Nominee, devotes his efforts to helping people maximize their leadership potential, understand their thinking and prioritize team dynamics. Through his study of The Science of Axiology (a scientific approach to how people make value judgments in leadership situations), Hartman has developed a valuable assessment tool.
Throughout his research, he noted that high-performance leaders selectively place importance on some information while neglecting other information. The result is criteria for decision-making. After surveying and assessing over 1000 top leaders worldwide, he found a pattern of consistent attention and regular lack of attention to vital areas of leadership.
What follows are The Five Most Common Mistakes Of High Performance CEOs, inspired from the research of Robert Hartman, and from decades of my consulting, coaching and leadership training of high performing CEOs.
1. Lack Of Consistency And Conformity
Although most top executives will profess that consistency and conformity are top priorities for the growth and scaling of their company, in practice many CEOs demonstrate and/or embody a different message. Conformity is usually a paradox in growing corporations, where thinking outside the box is heavily encouraged. And consistency could even be a joke – depending on how much rapid growth is occurring at an organization – it is not uncommon for a trend of “fire fighting” to take hold as the company culture.
To avoid this mistake: Messaging how important systems and procedures are to your team, even in rapid growth, is essential. Systems and procedures maintain brand, product, customer service and other departmental consistency to the customer. Internal attention to having growth spurts be individual stages that get gelled back into the corporate structure will pay huge dividends.
2. Lack Of “Strategy Follow Through” Discipline
It is tough to choose a strategic direction, see less then favorable results, and stay the course. The innate human instinct is to jump ship quickly before the ship goes down!
However, more often than not that the problem is not the strategy, but the tactical execution of it. Top leaders often look for the “right” strategy, and although there are likely stratospheres of probability for strategic outcomes, world class CEOs focus on execution and course-correction of a strategic direction before abandoning ship. Having the discipline to continue the course-correction process, particularly through the ability to ask probing questions, results in solutions. This is how we solve problems that are real versus solving problems that are an extrapolation of a probable outcome.
To avoid this mistake: Consider the best case, worst case and possible unexpected forks in the road ahead of time. Work with your team to create the expectation of long-term commitment to a strategy – even through tough times. Focus on the execution of a strategy chosen and avoid the temptation to keep returning to the drawing board!
3. Lack Of Mission, Vision, Values
There are very few companies where one could walk into a random office, ask team members to recite the Mission, Vision, Values of the company, and have them actually recall something even similar to the document prominently displayed in the lobby. Yet, this offers the most compelling barometer for all decision-making and emotional engagement of your team. The No. 1 reason the team is not related to the company Mission, Vision, Values is because the CEO is not connected to it.
When a CEO is disconnected from, not embodying or not presenting the Mission, Vision, Values of the company frequently – in meetings, emails and at corporate events – the entire culture begins to slide. Team cohesion and focus wane, perhaps not all together but surely from the optimum state, and you end up with disengagement and dissatisfaction in the company.
To avoid this mistake: Create a daily habit that connects you with the Mission, Vision and Values of the company. As the leading beacon for the company, this is the CEO’s primary driver, and should be consistently present in both physical and psychological form all day long. If you find that your documented Mission, Vision and Values no longer ring true, make it a priority to update them to ones that you and your entire company can get behind.
4. Lack Of Instilling Responsibility And Integrity
There are two common mistakes that thwart the interest in increasing self-ownership and high accountability in companies.
The first is “Leadership by Friendship.” We all know that a leader who interacts with their team by being the “best buddy” or friend will often fail to make good judgments, hard decisions and key shifts at important inflection points. Most CEOs ask themselves, “How can I get my team to take higher levels of Self Ownership and Accountability?” but often sacrifice what they want most in an attempt to avoid upsetting the “culture.” Once the CEO has allowed accountability to drift and get sloppy, the rest of management follows and results inevitably suffer.
The second common mistake that thwarts instilling responsibility and integrity is “Leadership by Fear.” Commonly taking the form of passive-aggressive or simply aggressive interaction, communication and actions, this model requires constant attention and energy by the CEO. This model primarily inputs scarcity into the culture – leading to a “good enough to not get your head bitten off” model. The carrot and the stick are only part of the equation that causes self-ownership and high accountability:
Clear Expectation + Owner Agreement + Rewards & Consequences = Ownership And High Accountability
To avoid this mistake: Setting an example of clear, actionable expectations, soliciting agreement from your team and having a published and clear set of Rewards & Consequences will instill responsibility.
5. Little Fostering Of Innovation, Innovative Thinking And Change
How does this jive with Mistake No. 1? Well, along with the need for systems, procedures, conformity and consistency, a company will also need a high level of innovation, innovative thinkers and a drive for constant change.
From a politically correct standpoint, every CEO will tell you that they encourage out of the box thinking, or innovative thinking. In practice, many company cultures instill a sense of fear for stepping too far out, really being a true innovator, or creating change. Even if some innovation is allowed, the CEO must decide how far down the chain of command there is willingness for innovation and change.
To avoid this mistake: Top companies and CEOs have designed systems that support innovation and for employees and key execs to have the experience of their input actually impacting the company (and possibly strategic decisions). A top CEO can avoid a stagnant company by fostering innovation from every person at the company and openly rewarding those that contribute.
Are you ready to stop making fatal mistakes and start making commitments to proven processes that will better your organization?