The CEO Paradox

by | April 6, 2019

Let’s get real. Organizations at the height of their success don’t switch-out their CEOs.
This means that if you’re a new CEO coming into an existing organization, the pressure is on.
You have a new role with major accomplishments you need to pull-off, and your milestones need to happen quickly. All eyes are on you and your numbers.

Organizations at the height of their success don’t switch-out their CEOs.

In the face of this pressure, I’ve often seen new CEOs narrow their focus and tighten the group of people around them they trust. This behavior isn’t weird or unique to CEOs–it’s actually built in.

As studies have shown, your natural human physiology under stress is actually designed to narrow our focus and prime you for action—whether you’re slamming the winning serve at Wimbledon, or acting quickly in an intense real estate negotiation. As we know, pressure to achieve is a good thing. And the stress of the game keeps you on your toes for what’s coming at you.

In the face of pressure, new CEOs tend to narrow their focus and tighten the group of people around them they trust.

But this heightened response can work against you when it unknowingly influences how you lead. A narrowed focus can influence how you understand the tasks in front of you, and how you engage your people. Now, I’m not saying it’s a mistake to focus on the small number of things that can happen quickly to revive your business.

The tendency for new CEOs, however, is to want to control all aspects of these first initiatives—including the decision-making–so that the projects come off well. In these early days, it seems logical to assign key decisions to a small group of your most trusted people, so that the decisions can be tightly coordinated and controlled.

Don’t be tempted.

This heightened response to stress can work against you when it unknowingly influences how you lead.

What you may not realize is that what’s needed in this critical time is not a narrowing but broadening of decision-making. What you need to do is expand the pool of people who can make key decisions. This is the right move to get more done, even though it seems counterintuitive because at some visceral level you fear it will slow you down.

This is the CEO Paradox.

The CEO Paradox sounds something like this: “I have real things to get done. I don’t know who to trust, so I’ll trust only those I know.” I see the CEO Paradox all the time, and it’s a trap, because it trades short-term gains for long-term wins.

What’s needed in this critical time is not a narrowing but broadening of decision-making.

As CEO, you have to engage your people, because the more people you engage, the more you can get done. Your trusted people are only a small fraction of the resources in your organization. And the people in your broader organization want to contribute to your success. They want to be engaged. They want to be invited to offer their knowledge and expertise to the overall work of your organization.
If you’re not engaging your people effectively, you’re not utilizing them effectively. Put bluntly, you’re wasting talent, money, and time.

The CEO Paradox is a trap because it trades short-term gains for long-term wins.

To expand your thinking along these lines, here’s a quick exercise to get you started on engaging more people around decision-making:

1. Pick 2 major objectives you have in the next six months.
2. For each objective, list 3 major decisions that need to be made to advance those decisions.
3. Now answer the following questions:

a. Who have you entrusted to make these decisions?
b. If the answer is you:

i. Is this really the best use of your time?
ii. Should somebody else step-in and take this off your plate?
iii. If so, will you ask them to do so?
iv. If not, why not?

c. If the answer is not you:

i. Who on your team is best equipped to make the important decisions to advance your plan?
ii. Are there people outside your immediate sphere that could be decision-makers here as well?

As you go through these questions, you’ll see they begin to open up the possibilities for engagement. The point is that how we think about decision-making and who can be key decision-makers in our organizations drives many aspects of the business. Our thinking can expand our productivity or undercut our ability to bring in new voices, new ideas, new energy.

As CEO, you have to engage your people. Why? The more people you engage, the more you can get done.

Want to know more? Contact me. I can show a process that easy to learn and lets you capitalize on the talent you already have to make bigger, faster wins throughout your company. You’ve have a lot to do. Don’t think small about your decision-making. As my former boss, Steve Jobs, would say, “Think different.”

Mobilize Your Vision™

Mobilize Your Vision™

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