Friday, December 21, 2007

The Accidental CEO

The average CEO is smart, hard working and ambitious, but he or she rarely sets out to be CEO.

In a seven year survey of over 300 CEOs, conducted by CEO2, 97% of those interviewed stated that they had never expected to become a CEO – at least, not in that moment. They got their jobs by accident.

Imagine one day going into a Board of Directors meeting as the CFO and coming out as the CEO. It really happens. “I couldn’t believe it; they relieved John of his duties and pointed to me. ‘George,’ they said, ‘we want you to serve as interim CEO while we do a search'. That was over two years ago.”

Another CEO told us that all he had wanted to do was be a great programmer. Alan had some great applications he was exploring in the music industry when his brother-in-law shared what he was doing with a Venture Capitalist friend who just happened to be looking to exploit the recent trend in music distribution over the net.

“I went from extraordinary programmer to incompetent CEO in less than 24 hours. And the funny thing was, everyone treated me like I knew what I was doing – like the title alone would somehow give me what I needed to do the job. I’m talking investors as well as my employees here. I never set out to manage a company with 600 people but here I am. It’s been quite an adventure, more than a little stressful, and at times very lonely.”

Still another CEO shared that his father, who founded a $200 million dollar electronic component and contract-manufacturing firm, suddenly died. Tom was working as a financial consultant for a top 5 accounting firm at the time and his mother asked him to step in for the family.

“During the first six months I looked at everything through a financial lens. It was my only experience so I fell back on it when I found myself in charge. I found out really fast that business is a heck of a lot more than the P&L. In fact the more time passed the more I found that 90% of the problems I ran into were people related. No one ever teaches you that, much less what to do about it. And many never find out about it until it’s too late.”

Even CEOs brought into organizations as professional managers laughed when asked about their first jobs as CEOs.

“Until you asked I had completely forgotten about my first CEO assignment,” said Steve, now Chairman and CEO of a billion dollar marketing firm based in NYC. “After a few years it feels like you’ve always been in the job. Like you were born into it. The key to being CEO is much like being a consultant” he said, “your first order of business is to survive long enough to do some good. And you have a hell of a learning curve.”

No matter how CEOs get their jobs, one thing is certain, there is not a lot of training for the job.

The CEO chair has a compelling agenda of its own, regardless of who is sitting in it, especially if it’s a public corporation.

The chair will run the CEO if he or she is not well grounded in his or her own personal values and guiding principles. Ungrounded CEOs end up managing and reacting rather than leading and growing.

There are three Laws of Leadership that are all but ignored in the tips, techniques, and best practices espoused by modern management thought. Until the laws are followed we will continue to have 74% of our managers disengaged and 97% of our businesses failing within 10 years.

What do you think?

More to come

No comments: