Get To The Top At Work, And Enjoy It!

I was inspired to write this article after reading an essay arguing for becoming a salesperson, rather than a CEO… claiming that a salesperson’s hours are shorter, the stress is less, and moment-to-moment tasks are more enjoyable. That didn’t make sense to me. While I certainly know some stressed-out, overwhelmed CEOs, I know many more hopelessly frustrated, discouraged salespeople.

Yes, it’s no fun to lead a failing organization. It’s even less fun trying to sell offerings for such a faltering company.

However, keep in mind that an effective CEO can make almost any firm successful. Few effective salespeople can.

If I’m right about effective CEOs, graduate diploma of strategic leadership why do so many CEOs flop so badly that they have to be quickly replaced? I can’t speak for any individual situation I didn’t observe directly, but I certainly can draw on lessons from those CEOs I have seen lose their jobs due to poor performance.

The ones I know who flopped weren’t adequately prepared to lead companies. The job was usually thrust on them after doing well in some more limited company role. The board of directors assumed that the rest of the leadership capabilities were in place… but either didn’t check to make sure or didn’t know how to check.

Over the years, I’ve written many articles about what it takes to become an outstanding CEO. Those articles demonstrate that the list of top-performance capabilities keeps changing… and becomes increasingly difficult to meet.

If I could pick only three requirements today for high CEO performance (all other things being equal), they would be:

1. mastery over identifying and implementing ways to make exponential breakthroughs in revenue increases, cost reductions, and appropriate investment choices

2. vision and skill to lead an organization-wide process of continually upgrading business models

3. ability to sense how the organization’s environment requires adjustments in what is done in order to turn all irresistible trends into positive influences on the organization

You might assume that all CEOs with business educations would be fully able in all these areas. If you so assumed, you were quite wrong. Most business education is aimed at producing middle managers who specialize in one aspect of what a company does (such as accounting, engineering, finance, manufacturing, marketing, product management, or sales).

Let’s look at what happens when such a well-trained specialist rises to the top of the organization. You’ve done a great job of selling for your business. Now you are in charge of everything. Chances are that you keep focusing on making sales, perhaps not even appointing a strong person to replace you. What happens to everything else that’s important? Those activities fall apart over time as cooperation breaks down among the different functions. And you won’t know what to do differently. Too bad!

What’s the answer? A lot more preparation for CEOs in many more ways, not in just the three big ones I mentioned earlier. CEOs also need to know the most important ins and outs of all the disciplines within an organization so that the leader knows what needs to be done, can speak the language of the people who do it, and understand how to coordinate all the different activities to accomplish more.

What does such preparation have to do with enjoying being a CEO? A well-prepared CEO is certainly busy, but that’s due to being excited by the tasks and challenges to take on more work. The difference between that busyness and what a failing CEO experiences is like the difference between going for a nice, long walk on a pleasant day with your friends and continually bailing out a sinking ship with a bucket that’s too small for the task.

I base my observations on having helped prepare dozens of CEOs of major companies over the last four decades.

In addition, I studied for over a decade the characteristics of the most successful CEOs for a leading magazine. As part of that work, I routinely met with, and discussed the plans and results of such CEOs. The ease with which the best functioned was quite evident… and it was always based in long-term, thorough preparation for the work.

As an example of what I mean, let me describe the preparation and work experiences of one such CEO, Elijah Chingosho, Ph.D., who leads a major industry association.

As a youngster on a farm in Zimbabwe, he dreamed of becoming an aeronautical engineer. Through hard work and perseverance, he was able to earn a scholarship for such advanced training, graduating with a Master’s degree in engineering. That gave him a sound theoretical background in aviation.


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