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Being a CEO is a Tough Job, If Done Correctly

If you take the job, be ready to act


“Lack of Action Led to CEO’s Ousting” — headline from the Wall Street Journal

CEO John Flint was only in his role for 18 months at large bank HSBC. His ouster was a result of his leadership style and inability to act decisively. Before taking the job, he told colleagues he preferred not to be in the public eye and took the job out of a sense of duty.

I bet Flint is a good guy. In fact, he was trying to make HSBC a “nicer place to work.” But good people don’t always make good leaders.

I believe decency in the C-suite is key to capitalism’s survival. But decent people (remember the Boy Scouts list?) sometimes lack critical skills and behaviors. Sometimes they’re chocolate bunnies — sweet on the outside, hollow on the inside.

However, sometimes they’re chock full of many skills, but they lack confidence and fear making decisions. This often looks like a need for analyzing a problem or opportunity until the decision makes itself. Sometimes it takes the form of too much collaboration — putting everything to a vote. Some folks who are attracted to the “no bosses” movement are from this camp. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone just got along and made all the tough choices that benefited the company for the long term? … And when that works, we’ll have kindergarten without teachers!

Boards and shareholders hire CEOs to do something, not just preside. They hire CEOs to set direction, engage their teams (which may not always mean a “nice” environment) and make the tough calls with less-than-perfect information.

Being a CEO is a damn tough job if done correctly! Confidence is required! Narcissism, no, but someone who’s uncomfortable being in the limelight and doesn’t feel a burning desire to lead shouldn’t apply.

Caring, collaborative people can make great CEOs, but they also must occasionally be fearless and willing to make the tough calls and piss people off for the organization’s long-term good. They must be ready to act.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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