Troubles at the top

Troubles at the top
Some of the problems CEOs face today and how can it be resolved.

Paul RobinsonProblems get bigger as the ladder of management go higher. Time shrinks for many CEOs while they are busy juggling with multiple business meetings, business developmental activities and travel schedules. Many of the tasks could be physically exhaustive and mentally overwhelming for a CEO. When pressure mounts at the top, it takes tremendous energy, consistent focus and a lot of hard work to stay there.

Today a CEO is not only a chief executive officer but also a Chief Accountable Officer. They have to meet the demands of customers, employees, business associates, the board and the shareholders. Amidst the balancing act, they also have a personal life and a family to attend to.

Problems of CEOs are increasingly complex. Its multidimensional and the higher you go the bigger the challenges will be. But assuming 100% responsibility solves most of the problems. When a person take full responsibility for their action and outcome, they are leading themselves to take charge of their pressing issues. CEOs are highly responsible people. They are not only responsible for themselves but also for their subordinates.

There are tremendous challenges and opportunities while leading people. Many CEOs receive the privilege to be great problem solvers. They get to wrestle with the challenges of the present and the future. They get to experience the triumphs of doing the impossible. But it’s not a cakewalk. Sometimes the circumstances can dwarf them in to thinking hopeless and acting helpless. In my experience of coaching some of the CEOs, I have come across three major challenges they face commonly:

1. Getting stressed out to optimize performance and productivity.
One of the primary challenges of a CEO is to optimize performance in this high velocity business landscape. Every CEO is asked to deliver more with less. They have to work within limited resources and deliver the best results. It’s a challenging proposition, but it is a brutal reality in the world of business that you have to manage it however unpleasant it may be. While optimizing the resources available and especially the human potential of the work force, the CEO has to struggle with the performance issues of his executive team. It is unpleasant to confront performance issues like getting the wrong people out off the bus. It is even more pressurizing when CEOs are not able to perform to the best they want to. Some will build in that internal pressure to demand more from oneself and the team while others gets stressful and helpless.

CEOs are meant to drive performance and driving performance is getting harder day-by-day. The age-old carrot and stick is no longer sustaining performance in the work place. People are no longer willing to get succumbed to the stupid rules and job satisfaction has become a top criterion to reduce attrition in the workplace. People don’t want to be managed, and smart people don’t want to be led either. Smart people want to be inspired. They want to be motivated and engaged at work. They want their CEOs to be a powerhouse of inspiration. Therefore what CEOs need most today is energy- enough energy to be infectious and rub on to their team.

Motivation is essential to sustain performance. When set-backs take place CEOs become the dealer in hope. It takes perseverance and persuasion to keep the people tied to the organizational goals. Ironically it gets tougher to lead people in good times. In good times people get comfortable and they minimize their efforts to drive results. This leads to a bigger challenge for a CEO to break the comfort zone of his people and drive them for better results.
Every year organizations are aspired to raise the bar and grow organically and CEOs are in the leading front to deliver better results. Some organizations may comply with average performance blaming the external conditions like the economy but some are unwilling to accept average performance. It is the responsibility of the leadership team in an organization to give direction and take charge of the entire team. And it is the responsibility of the CEO to keep the leadership team to perform well. To keep them poised on to the most important priorities and keeping them aligned to the goals are critical to the success of every organization. Bottom-line keeping everyone on the same page is a challenging task for any CEO.

Today diversity is flourishing in the growing workplace. Managing diversity is an art if the CEOs can tap into the power of diverse opinions and perspectives that will bring in maximum value to a debated decision making process. If managed badly diversity can lead to indifferences resulting in stress, politics and chaos in the work place. Moreover diverse departments and managers tend to miss out on priorities when they are not communicated or followed through effectively. To prevent this; CEOs must have clear written communication with their immediate team rather than assuming that they will carry out the responsibility. Effective delegation is the key to getting things done. To delegate tasks effectively a CEO must know the strength of his immediate team. ‘Strength based Delegation’ makes the job easier for the person executing the task, because he is playing with his strength rather than his weakness. To delegate better; the CEOs must know their people beyond their resume and must learn to match their skills with the tasks assigned.

2. Not having the power to decide

In the olden days, the buck stopped with the CEO; whenever decisions have to be taken on the critical matters related to the company. They could arbitrarily decide and dismiss the board’s power. Today leadership decisions are democratized and CEOs are losing their arbitrary powers to the board. Many CEOs do not chose to please the board while dismissing their integrity for profits alone. It is unpleasant when CEOs learn that they no longer control their environment. In some cases; most of the decisions are made favoring the shareholders interest above the employee’s interest.

Bottom-line the positional powers are declining for a CEO. This leads to the indifference in a CEOs mind since they tend to argue more for their people and customers. They also feel helpless irrespective of their powers when the board takes critical decisions.

To avoid this sort of disconnect CEOs must work with the board and the people in the most amicable manner. It takes persuasion skills for a CEO to show the board the missing picture. It takes visionary leadership for a CEO to show a large picture to his people. In critical areas it is important to ask ‘what is right’ instead of ‘who is right’. When CEOs are orchestrating energy to achieve something, it is important that it takes audacity, conviction and guts from their side to make anything happen. Hesitation and ‘analysis paralysis’ don’t make the issues go away. It amplifies issues to go out of control. CEOs need courage and capacity to challenge assumptions and show strategic direction when dilemmas prevail. It takes information to throw light up on matters that are not clear to the board. It takes integrity to sustain the faith of people in a CEO’s leadership roles. Instead of choosing to get jammed between the board and the people, the CEO must become a channel that connects and integrates collective efforts.

3. Not able to keep pace with change
In the high velocity market place change is imminent and constant. It is the job of a CEO to be a change agent and lead change rather than getting thwarted by it. Technology led disruptions and innovations are changing the industries and challenging the competencies of existing businesses. The compelling need to differentiate the business and to innovate has become a necessity for survival itself. In this scenario CEOs are highly pressured to devise new strategic plans and execution methods. They are asked to think differently and give a strategic direction to keep pace with the changing times. They have to alternate between directing action and enabling innovation.

Bottom-line CEOs must navigate their organizations in the most unfamiliar territories. They must provide certainty where uncertainties arise. These are huge responsibilities to be undertaken diligently where millions of cash and the lives of many people are invested. One wrong turn can take everything down the hill and taking no turn can worsen the situation. Moreover CEOs can’t ignore the forces that are rearranging the business landscape like increased competition, innovation, big data, cloud, mobile, social media etc. To keep an open eye with alertness and acting agile is crucial. Timely decisions are essential and keeping pace with change and adapting constantly has become survival tools.

But CEOs are not meant to focus only on survival. They are expected to initiate strategies that will help an organization thrive in volatile times. The CEOs mind can’t rest quietly any more. They must constantly seek out opportunities for growth. They can no longer work on something to maintain a status-quo. They must work towards something every time. Strategic direction is the key to the future and CEOs must stay alert at all times about every minute change that is taking place in their industry. That’s a huge responsibility for a CEO to undertake. Moreover they must constantly assemble their team and equip them to take on future challenges. This takes time and CEOs often tend to complain with their lack of time. This occurs while they have so many priorities to be dealt with. Here is the solution: increased energy, delegation, sense of urgency, and priority management can reduce the time span of completing a task.

Bottom-line it is energy that gets more done in less time. And unfortunately it is energy that is mostly depreciated in most of the CEOs. Sometimes inertia takes over and makes them ineffective and sluggish. Great health and vitality plays a vital role for a CEO’s effectiveness. It takes a healthy mind to take healthy decisions. It takes a healthy body to keep a healthy mind functioning in its optimum level. Regular mental exercises like reading, meditation, brainstorming, idea sharing keeps the mind healthy. Regular physical exercises, healthy eating habits and deep breathing can keep the body healthy. When the body and mind works on its optimum and in unison, there is energy and fun in the workplace. Consequently CEOs can make the best use of their time and enjoy the freedom to reflect on the future-ideate and deliver change in their organizations. Whenever they are surrounded with followers, they are inspired to deliver better results. An entire organization gets motivated and purpose driven. Once this objective is achieved; a CEO has done most of what is expected of him to deliver-stress free.

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