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Who has your executive backside?

Chief executives can't be all things to all people


"Every CEO has an open flank." – Ram Charan

No one is great at everything. CEOs who think they must know everything (or think they do know everything) are on a fast-track to disappointment and failure. 

Most chief executives know this and plug the holes themselves or hire to fill in for their weaknesses – assuming they know what their limitations are. That takes care of the "known unknowns," but leaves the "unknowns unknowns" as potential problems, that are sometimes fatal.

I have a client who felt insecure with his financial knowledge when he first got the gig as CEO of an international company. So he hired a financial coach to get him up to speed to gain the confidence to answer questions from his board and speak with members of the financial community. He now can hold his own with most CFOs I know.

Years ago, I also had a client who was a successful real estate developer and investor. He believed he was an expert on the art of the deal – and sure enough, he was – but he also thought he should know the best way to fill a pothole.

Different companies and industries require different knowledge, and size further complicates this. The knowledge required of the CEO of a 10-person engineering firm may be extremely technical, and he or she may not need a broad set of skills. But when the company gets to 1,000 people, the CEO's required skill set will be dramatically different.

Smaller companies often believe that someone must come from their industry to succeed. My experience is that they're usually wrong and that this belief limits their growth potential. Larger organizations usually understand that a broad skill set – heavily weighted toward people skills – will most often trump deep technical skills.

There are skills and deficiencies that you can hire around, and there are some that will bite you if you refuse to grow. A CEO who doesn't understand strategy or financial statements or doesn't know how to build an aligned team won't succeed in the long run or in multiple environments. 

Just like every other problem, asking for help or admitting weakness is the required first step.

You have an open flank, but can you see it?

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