Outside Observations

Dec. 21, 2004
Do you see yourself as others see you?

Have you ever wondered what your outside directors think of you, particularly those who are not cronies? What about the chief executives of your competitors? Do you think your executive management team tells you what you need to hear, or what you want to hear? I have been a chief executive and an outside director. I am also a journalist who takes notes. Over the years I have collected an eclectic assortment of observations that Id like to share with you. Some of what I report is mischievous. Some is facetious. Some passes for wit. Most of it, however, is pretty serious stuff.

  • Chief executives tend to postpone the evil day for definitive action, especially if the evil day is one that they themselves created.
  • There is seldom anything wrong with a company that well-directed management wont cure. Chief executives will undergo almost any treatment to avoid an amputation of themselves.
  • When executive executions have to be carried out, sooner is always better than later.
  • Many of a companys problems are caused by the CEOs lack of business knowledge: what is the companys business, and what is none of its business.
  • A company seems to gear itself to the speed of its slowest executives rather than to the energy of its best executives.
  • A skeptical chief executive should take nothing for granted, including his or her own competence.
  • For some reason, chief executives usually select successors who will not surpass the "great one."
  • Age does for most chief executives what it does for wine; it sours the bad and improves the good.
  • Chief executives never devote their skills and efforts to proving themselves wrong.
  • A soloist who remains a soloist will never be a successful conductor of a great symphony orchestra. A specialist chief executive who remains a specialist will never be successful in growing a great company.
  • The seven deadly sins of executive management are: poor planning, empire building, fast-buck management, resistance to change, lack of commitment, fear of failure, and ignorance of what needs to be done.
  • In most successful companies, the chief executive is not a giant among men, but first among equals.
  • Chief executives have a tendency to believe their own advertising.
  • All CEOs believe they delegate, but too many dont.
  • As companies grow, chief executives become more lax in controlling fat. But in every big, diversified company, there are segments of the business ripe to be captured by a leaner, shrewder, and hungrier competitor.
  • Good CEOs understand that profit is the result, not the objective, of efficient management.
  • When they seek to eliminate risk, CEOs risk the elimination of enterprise and innovation.
  • CEOs who ignore the fact that most decisions are determined by market forces fall victim to the notion that doing nothing can be more damaging than doing something.
  • There are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people if they are given a CEO who leads instead of manages.
  • Miscommunication, poor communication, or no communication at all will create serious problems for unheeding chief executives.
  • The more dotted lines on the company organizational chart, the more inefficient the company.
  • The essential quality of the effective CEO is the ability to determine and understand what the problem is. Conventional wisdom isnt conventional anymore.
  • Great execution will not save a bad idea -- or a bad CEO.
  • Captains of shipsand of corporationsgain their skills and their reputations from coping successfully with storms and tempests rather than from sailing on calm seas.
  • Experienced CEOs know that strong competition often brings out the best in a companys products and sometimes the worst in its people.
  • When chief executives get along easily with others, do not fight too hard for their proposals, and are always willing to see the other persons point of view, particularly if the other person is a member of the board, they generally gain a reputation for being constructive and cooperative. And they are -- but what else are they? Sal F. Marino is chairman emeritus of Penton Publishing Inc. and an IW contributing editor. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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