Here are common stumbling blocks that can trip up the most business-savvy leaders and CEOs.
May 27, 2019 6 min read
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From 2007 to 2012, Wells Fargo went through some serious growing pains. During that time, as detailed in a case study published by Duke Law, massive fraud was occurring. Bank employees would open unrequested accounts — or convince customers to open accounts they didn’t need — in order to meet bonus goals. Evidently, some employees tried to alert management, but for whatever reason, news of the fraudulent activity never made it to the company’s CEO.
It’s unclear why the message didn’t travel all the way up the chain of command. Was there not a sound protocol in place? Were the leaders of Wells Fargo simply too busy to check in with lower management? Whatever the case, the scandal blew up, and Wells Fargo’s CEO was partially blamed.
As a leader, don’t have complete control. That being said, there are certain things you can do, and mistakes you can avoid, to position yourself and your company for success.
1. Taking on too much
As stated in a blog post written by Mark Moses, founding partner of CEO Coaching International, too many CEOs take on more than they can handle. “Setting restrictions on what you will and won’t do might sound indulgent or lazy…trust me, it’s not,” says Moses.
“You’re just stuck in a start-up mentality. If you don’t stop thinking like someone running a business out of his or her garage and start thinking like a world-class CEO, your company will never be world class.”
If you’ve been handling payroll, cleaning your office, updating your website and more, the advice above sounds pretty unrealistic. Luckily, this is where delegating comes into the picture. CEOs need to sit down and write out every task they carry out. If the task requires CEO-level attention, it can stay on the to-do list. Items that don’t align with a CEO’s core tasks (buying handsoap for the bathroom) should be reassigned or given up altogether.
2. Forgetting to listen
According to a study conducted by the Miles Group and Stanford Graduate School, CEOs typically rate low in people management — especially when it comes to skills like listening. Although this issue is difficult to overcome, you can improve immensely by using what the Oxford Library of Psychology terms “the science of compassion” in your workplace.
David Desteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, said in a recent article for Harvard Business Review, “People made to feel pride and compassion are willing to persevere more than 30 percent longer on challenging tasks compared to those feeling other positive emotions, such as happiness, precisely because pride and compassion induce them to place greater value on future rewards.”
To put this managerial style into action, you have to start listening to your employees. Learn by speaking with them and their managers what they like and dislike about their jobs. Then, see how you can minimize their suffering and maximize the rewards they experience from working for your company.
You also have to walk the walk in order for your team members to feel that you’re leading with compassion. In short, focus on building trust and letting employees know that you stand behind them and are grateful to have them on your team.
3. Giving up too early
Barnes & Noble knew it was in for a fight as Amazon rose to power. At first, the bookseller came out strong, adding coffee shops to their bookstores to incentivize customer visits. And they went as far as creating an e-reader of their own to compete with the Amazon Kindle.
Despite these big changes, Amazon continued to thrive and at that point, Barnes & Noble pretty much gave up. The bookstore could have done more, but leadership either didn’t have the stamina or the ideas to try new tactics. Now, Amazon book sales continue to dominate the market.
4. Failing to set boundaries
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding flexible organizational structures these days.
As the business landscape changes, many of the facets of the fixed organization fall — hierarchy, function, etc. Although organization structures are changing, boundaries need to stay in place. As a CEO, you need to implement rules that will help your diverse team function on a high level, both with you and with one another.
In an interview with Forbes’ Dan Schawbel, Dr. Henry Cloud, a clinical psychologist who’ made a career of advising CEOs, claims that leaders need to set several types of boundaries.
He first suggests creating guidelines that allow your employees to focus on what is crucial. Another boundary Dr. Cloud advises is avoiding negative emotions. Business owners can create rules that foster a supportive emotional environment that’s likely to promote performance and happiness.
One instance of a boundary that must be set regards effective communication. The “he said, she said” style of conversation is harmful and can damage the strength of your employee relationships. Instead, set a clear boundary that whatever you discuss with employees is in confidence.
If the employee feels unwilling to talk with you one-on-one, ask him or her if they’d like the third party to come into the room. This way, everyone will have their side represented and heard without word-of-mouth confusion and second-hand information.
There’s always room for growth as a leader.
Although Wells Fargo has a long way to go to regain customer trust, the company is starting out on the right foot. Over the last few years, the bank’s been addressing improper sales practices and making changes to their organization. Along the way, Wells Fargo employees continue to work tirelessly to rebuild customer trust.
Being a CEO is difficult, and mistakes are bound to happen. Luckily, with the right knowledge, you’ll be able to identify and avoid common managerial mistakes before they inflict damage to your reputation and bottom line.