CEOs a la carte

This piece is inspired by my friend Chandrabhan Singh’s beautifully composed blog ‘Don’t blame the CEO, he is just a salesman!!!’

Indeed, in these challenging times for businesses, the CEO very often remains a mere salesman for the Company. The CEO keeps doing the balancing act instead of steering the team to a bold new future through his/her vision and style of work. Most of them end up addressing urgent and critical issues when they should be focused on what is important.

Having interacted with hundreds of CEOs from other side of the table, there are a few learnings that are relevant. One, there is no such thing as an ideal CEO. Like all humans, they are also a bundle of strengths and weaknesses. Two, CEOs get into the job that has a baggage. A lot of time is spent in cleaning earlier mess. Three, most CEOs are promoted CXOs because of the brilliant work done in their earlier departments. The CEO who has been good in marketing or finance or HR or projects management is expected to be great in all these. Overnight. This is true irrespective of whether the person is promoted from existing team or brought from outside.

I recently read an interview of CEO of India’s most valuable company. He mentions that a lot of his time is spent practicing ‘art of the possible’ now whereas 80% of time was spent in ensuring that things don’t go wrong when he was a CFO. This, from a CEO of $100 billion corporation, is a good insight on the transformation that the CEO needs to make in his/her character.

A CEO is expected to be a good leader, negotiator, people’s person, instinctual, quick learner, risk taker, etc. But he/she had been only a good marketing or finance or HR or projects person only till yesterday. If he/she did have these qualities to the brim, then he/she would have been most likely an entrepreneur. The Boards need to realize this and give sufficient time to the person. Constantly breathing down the neck will cause misunderstandings as were witnessed in another Indian technology company recently. They will make mistakes and they will have setbacks. It is about the faith in person. According to me, CEOs become Chief Executives only after they have been designated as CEOs. Nothing a la carte.

A successful entrepreneur/CEO was once asked on the percentage of wrong decisions he makes every day. His answer was an honest ‘over 50% are wrong and most decisions are instinctual’. Guess, there is a lesson here for both CEOs and the Boards. Making a wrong decision is not a crime. Not trusting your instincts is. This percentage difference between right and wrong decisions differentiates a great CEO from his/her ordinary peers.