David G. Brooks
Vice-President and Region Manager
Global Beverage Company
Michael Potter, Managing Director
Market Behavior (Vietnam) Ltd.
Deputy Managing Director
Hong Kong and China Based Manufacturer and Exporter
Senior Vice President
Global Investment Bank
Concerns of the CEO
As a CEO, you know that there are many aspects to your role. Among other things you have to:
- Implement great strategy, mostly with fallible people
- Think about the future while acting effectively today
- Manage the egos of a senior team, and the fears of your workforce
- Ensure that you change faster than your competitors, but slowly enough to stay in step with the market
- Manage the expectations of investors, customers and suppliers
- Make tough decisions while retaining loyalty in your company
- Prepare to move on, while remaining committed every day
- Create new leadership while continuing to lead
Even though the challenges of the CEO role are great, at times it may seem that you don't really have the support that you need. Colleagues are careful what they say because of the status gap. The higher you go, the less feedback you get, even as your need for quality feedback increases. You often can't talk to other CEO's about what really matters to you because of the need to be circumspect in your affairs. And, family members are often unable to give the support that you might need, because they do not fully understand the issues with which you must grapple with.
CEOs face many different scenarios, and these are mostly situations which they haven't been prepared for through either experience or the type of education that most of us are exposed to. Typical scenarios include:
Transitioning to the next generation
Merging two organizations
Conflict resolution within the senior team
Dealing with prima donnas
CEO Scenario 1: Transitioning to the next generation
For instance, you may be heading up a successful business in Asia. Your desire to retire is growing, yet neither the current managing shareholders, or the family members whom you have working in the business, are really performing at the level required. You want to take the company to the next level. You know that something needs to be done. What is the best way forward?
We have dealt with different companies in Asia, some of which faced this very dilemma. Every situation is different, and therefore the approach that we take is different each time. The following case illustrates what is possible.
A successful Asian business had grown to a significant size. The founder was about to turn 60 and was already beginning to think about succession. The founder's son was also working in the business, and the founder passionately wished for his son to take on the mantle of leadership for the business. Unfortunately, in the founder's eyes, the son could not yet live up to the expectations of the father.
Chris Lonsdale was called in initially by the founder, with the intention of asking him to be the executive coach for the founder's son. The brief was to "prepare him to be the CEO".
It was clear from the beginning of this assignment that more needed to be done than simply coach the founder's son. The founder, an extremely intelligent and competent man had, by virtue of his strength, helped to create an atmosphere of fear within the company. There was little meaningful communication between senior managers, and as a consequence, decisions were either not made, or "over-ruled by inaction". At the same time, good ideas were not being surfaced, thereby limiting the potential of the company.
In addition, the growth potential of the company could not be realized simply by developing the skills of one individual.
Clearly, working just to "make the son better" was not going to help this business. For one thing, it was obvious that the son had a better grasp on the business than he was being given credit for. Secondly, the difficulties in communication that the entire senior team faced, could account for many of the problems that were being blamed on the son. Given this situation, we took the following approach:
After several months the founder of the business began to feel more confident that, in time, his son would be able to take on the leadership of the business and grow the company to the next level. Within 12 months of starting the developmental process the company was able to win new business and new customers that, just a short time before, the team had felt were totally out of reach.
The business grew by more than 30%, and the company is now poised for a further doubling of revenues.
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