7It takes years to claw to the top of the corporate ladder, yet a majority of the people who get to the highest rung take a quick and steep plunge. Yes, it’s lonely at the top, but there is preventive medicine for altitude sickness in the C-Suite.
Fact: 50-60% of newly hired CEOs lose their jobs within 18 months.
Once he discovered this, Ron Carucci set out to conduct exhaustive research on more than 100 CEOs who fell from grace to uncover the corporate land mines they stumbled on, how they could have avoided them, and what they should have done instead.
Carucci is co-founder and managing partner at Navalent, a boutique management consulting firm whose clients include Starbucks, Microsoft, and even the CIA.
I didn’t have to go undercover to meet him – in fact we spoke on the record in Boston at the recent C-Suite Network Conference, for my weekly program, Mind Your Business, on 77WABC radio.
CEO’s normally win their jobs based on their track record, but success is not always portable. Sometimes it can be a handicap.
“I call it the myth of a mandate,” Carucci says. “There’s a dangerous, implied assumption that there’s some formula that you’re meant to repeat. So instantly you reach back into your arsenal of experiences and take out a recipe. That can be deadly if you don’t understand how the solution you offer will work in the new organization.”
Should that solution flop, Carucci says the CEO often reacts by either pushing the wrong buttons, or none at all: “They’ll get paralyzed in the face of public scrutiny, angry employees and fearful consumers, and don’t know how to go on, or they’ll panic and push their solution harder. The harder they push, the more people back away from them.”
A leader who squanders his followers’ confidence is like a driver who loses control of his car. The crash is sure to come.
Long-lasting CEO’s learn to spot accidents before they happen and steer a straight course under any and all conditions. Carucci’s study found four consistent patterns shared by all exemplary CEO’s.
1) They had breadth. They knew, or learned their entire organization; how the pieces fit together, and to “work the seams” to keep cohesion.
2) They knew their businesses cold. They understood clearly how the business made money, had keen knowledge of industry trends, potential disruptions, what differentiated their company from the competition and why customers choose them over others.
3) They were decisive. They used both data and their intuition to make decisions, while avoiding freezing up or impulsiveness.
4) They developed great relationships, and reputations as leaders that people wanted to work for.
Carucci insists that every CEO and entrepreneur can train himself to reach that level by following five important steps:
A) Assert Yourself
Some CEO’s don’t want to assert their will and upset people, while others go to the other extreme and bully or belittle others. Leadership is the ability to disappoint people at a rate they can absorb. Most leaders don’t know they signed up for that, but you’ve got to make the hard calls.
B) Embrace Conflict
Conflict is the raw material of innovation and dissent is the best precursor for breakthrough. Tolerate it, don’t personalize it. Invite dueling facts to the table. Duke it out, enjoy it, but once you make a decision, link arms and execute it.
C) Navigate Setbacks
At some point a crisis will occur, such as a change in market trend or a natural disaster or catastrophe. You need the perseverance and tenacity to dig deep and say we’ve been dealt a new hand; here’s how we rebound and reconfigure.
D) Nurture Culture
Corporate culture is a reflection of your strategy and goals in the marketplace. Align your corporate culture to deliver and encourage; to promote the behaviors you value and discourage the behaviors you don’t.
E) Immunize Yourself
Part of life is learning to skin your knees well, says Carucci. Failure can and will strike, so prepare mentally in advance. Ask yourself: Will I still be kind to myself and others? Will the failure humble me, or fill me with self-contempt? What will become of me as a result of it?
Ask yourself those questions and follow these tips early in your CEO career, and chances are much higher you’ll still be sitting pretty in the C-Suite late in your career.
Bottom Line Action Step: Adapt past performance to new realities for the best results.