Seth Godin recently identified some reasons why CEOs can be stupid, and he almost found the central theme (almost, but not quite).
CEOs are human, and as such they fall prey to human emotions. One of the trickiest human functions is ego. In Godin’s blog, he listed power and exposure as being two ingredients that can make a CEO do stupid things. These factors tempt the ego, and any CEO with narcissistic tendencies becomes infected by their own ego. Inflated egos create barriers between the CEO and the one thing that brought him or her that power and exposure to begin with, namely people.
Ego is the antithesis of connection with people. Ego is about the self, not being selfless. It is concerned with the one, not the many. Sure, some oversized egos – mainly entertainers and politicians – attract their temporary hordes, but those masses of fans do not produce miracles. They don’t invent new products or improve old ones, hold customers’ hands, or collaborate to change the world. Yet a good CEO, one without a huge ego, connects with people in his or her company and inspires them to do all these things and more.
Defying the CEO ego (and for that matter, the egos of the entire management team) is the first and essential step to avoiding dumb leadership. But there are many other steps that involve people, their motivations and their participation. In the chapter on corporate culture, and throughout my book Tough Things First, I relate the many facets of human value and how to guide it in completion of the CEO’s vision. Three of the more important ones are:
AVAILABILITY: Some CEOs are spiritually, if not physically, disconnected from their employees. A leader who is not approachable projects, as Godin said, “that the boss doesn’t want to hear from them.” This attitude chokes off information to the brain of the corporate body and destroys the ability to make good decisions for corporate safety and advancement.
INVOLVEMENT/SERVICE: Leaders serve their teams. A CEO should spend more time fulfilling the needs of his employees than he does filling his ego. Only by listening (availability) and turning information into supportive action does an organization move forward.
VISION/DIRECTION: You can get a mob of people to take nearly any action providing the goal is clear and desirable. An ego-driven CEO communicates that his self-esteem is more important than his product vision. CEOs must constantly communicate not only the vision and direction the company will take, but also the culture within which the journey will be taken.
To avoid being a stupid CEO, avoid seeing yourself as an all-important part of the machine. Learn to love your employees, engage them, nurture them and focus them on your vision. None of those actions put you in the center of their universe, but all of them are at the core of successful companies.