Seldom will you find a CEO who has it all figured out. I don’t; however, I spend a lot of time reflecting on what constitutes a truly remarkable leader. What traits does this sort of leader embody and what types of habits does he or she successfully avoid? Over the last decade and a half, I’ve learned a lot — something I hope to continue no matter my age or job title. Through life’s lessons, I’ve discovered some unfortunate habits that CEOs can easily adopt if they're not careful.
Here are five patterns to avoid when you're at the helm of a company.
CEOs tend to be ambitious. To be clear, this is often a good thing: an unwavering trait that will propel your business towards success. Though, sometimes, this can cause you to set too many strategic priorities —ones that may end up working against you rather than for you. An excess of priorities can muddy a company’s overarching vision (i.e., where you see your business going in the future), creating unnecessary spin for all team members.
The right number of strategic priorities can vary based on the size and sector of your company as well as external factors affecting the business landscape at large. There isn’t necessarily a correct number of strategic priorities but rather an appropriate range. The sweet spot for many companies is three to five for any given year. Remain mindful of how these priorities will work together; as a CEO, it’s your job to connect the dots.
Selecting great leaders is the cornerstone of being a great leader. No business can truly scale without proper, strategic support at various touchpoints within an organization. As the CEO of a national company with over 5,000 employees, I often say that I lead through people. It is unrealistic for one individual to effectively lead a large sum of people, particularly in today’s telework environment. Trying to do this would be a disservice not only to yourself, but also to the employees you’re responsible for.
Selecting the right leaders can be tricky. It’s a task that requires thoughtful consideration and careful curation. The leaders you choose will ultimately become trusted partners and serve as an extension of your leadership — personifying the company’s mission, vision and values.
There’s a fundamental difference between team members who thoughtfully bring dissenting perspectives and ego-driven contrarians. The former is an asset to your organization; the latter can injure company culture. As a CEO, it’s important to spot the distinction. Executive leadership teams are increasingly vulnerable to groupthink, particularly if nobody is willing to disagree.
Critical thought often leads to thoughtful discourse. That’s why it is important to surround yourself with individuals that will speak up even when their perspective is decidedly unpopular. Don’t just employ these folks but cultivate them. It takes courage and a certain level of passion to challenge conventional wisdom. Ultimately, diversity of thought is the catalyst for growth and progress; it’s needed to scale the business.
A bad hire is an expensive misstep — one that harms both the employee in question (who could potentially thrive elsewhere) and the greater organization. As a young manager, I found myself remaining loyal to hires I knew were not the best fit. As a CEO, I now know better. Frankly, I view my colleagues as an extension of my family — making a scenario like this challenging. To be clear, no sincere leader wants to let an employee go, but oftentimes, making the right decision requires tough conversations. It’s crucial to understand that prolonged employment is often detrimental to the individual’s personal growth; in all likelihood, he or she is not finding the job worthwhile to begin with.
Don’t double down on poor recruiting calls. The longer the employee remains within your organization, the worse off everyone will be. Of course, before parting ways with an employee, proper onboarding, training and remediation efforts should take place. All new hires should feel empowered to excel in their role(s). All things considered, a bad hire is as much a reflection on the employee as it is on your organization, and by extension, you as its CEO.
Looking at competitors or previous strategies is a common practice when planning for the future. It can, however, inadvertently stifle innovation and overall creativity at your organization. As the CEO, it’s your responsibility to inspire critical thought at all levels of the business. Constantly looking to your competitors or the company’s history for answers will only hinder progress and growth.
Using the past as a benchmark is smart, but using it as a source of inspiration is not. Evaluating competitors is important for mapping out the competitive landscape, but it shouldn’t serve as a blueprint for your own strategy. As a leader, you don’t want your company to blend in; in fact, you want the exact opposite: to stand out.