The Measure of a CEO

 

 

RulerI read an interesting article recently in which the author, a seasoned business consultant and attorney, referred to half of all the CEO’s out there as being “below average”.  There were no studies cited, no research statistics offered, and no indication of what “average” is, was, or has been.  The article offered one example of a high profile CEO who was fired three months after his initial hire date for failing to produce profits commensurate with his salary!  Was this something the company did not realize when they hired him?

How do we measure the quality of our Chief Executive?  Do we only work with those who come with a demonstrable track record of success?  Do they know how to make money?  Are they good with people?  Do they have clear vision?  Are they skilled facilitators, mentors, directors and growth mongers?  Can they build a sales team, create a marketing plan and implement operational strategy?  Are their values clear, is their mission strong and does their very presence in the boardroom exude integrity?

If the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “YES”, you haven’t found a CEO; you’ve found Superman or Wonder Woman.  I work daily with CEO’s.  Lot’s of them.  In fact the foundation of my consulting practice is CEO skill development and strategic planning which puts me in direct one-on-one contact with these high level power brokers.  My experience often leaves me wondering why anyone would want to take on this extremely complex, thankless, unforgiving and emotionally draining task.   The CEO’s I know work incredibly long hours, take all the company problems home, directly answer client complaints, smooth over human resource issues, answer to profit driven BOD’s, and at the end of the day, offer everyone else the credit for company accomplishment.

The CEO position is also the most tenuous position in the organization.  Anyone who has been around for more than a minute knows that founding owners, managing boards and Chairman don’t make mistakes.  It’s always the CEO who goes; the CEO who ultimately takes the fall or pays the price for poor company performance.  So why do they do it?

The CEO’s I know can’t walk in a room and not be a leader.  They are driven to accomplishment, goal and task.  They are deeply committed, driven to personal and organizational excellence, focused on the strategic vision of their industry and organization.  Are they perfect?  Not a chance.  Ego driven?  Absolutely.  Difficult to please, often argumentative, aggressive, and in many cases abrasive to those closest to them?  Yes.  Should we accept this kind of behavior? No.  But we also need to take the time to understand where the behavior emanates from.

To cite an example, one of my clients recently took on the CEO role of a high growth, seemingly successful $50 million dollar manufacturing company.  Once inside, she realized that the reason the profits were so outstanding is that the previous owners had never provided for the appropriate infrastructure to maintain quality in production.

When my client recommended a major and costly reorganization to support quality in their process the Board of Directors began to second guess their choice for CEO. Couple this with the normal fair of several employee related legal claims against previous management, a management team in transition, a cash flow shortage and yes, you may be dealing with someone whose fuse is pretty short.

While the tender of success in the workplace is measured in dollars I find it hard to judge a CEO negatively simply because they negotiate the strongest personal compensation package possible.  I often ask skeptics a simple question when I am queried about the validity of a client’s compensation package; “Compared to what?”  Even professional compensation specialists have a difficult time agreeing on CEO compensation as the points of reference are as varied as the individual needs of the organization.

I want to be clear that I am not condoning poor performance nor am I suggesting that there are not compensation plans out there that cross into the land of absurdity.  I am saying that we need to take a long hard look at the men and women who have the courage to take on these high profile positions.  Hopefully when we do, we will see leaders we can be proud to follow, leaders we can trust to do the right thing, and leaders that will promote the health and well being of American business.

Sharon Jenks is CEO of The Jenks Group Inc., a California Consulting Company that specializes in strategic planning and executive development. She can be reached at http://www.thejenksgroup.com.

 

Why Aren’t More Women in Top Leadership Positions in Business?

women-in-top-leadership-positions-in-business

 

Despite the fact that women are in the majority in most western world countries in general and account for at least 50% of graduates from business degrees and MBA programs these days, it seems to be having very little impact on how many women occupy the top leadership positions in the business world. Although the numbers vary from country to country, in the US women are estimated to occupy only 17% of so-called “C-suite” positions and even then, these tend to be in the more junior C-suite roles, with CEO, Chancellor, Managing Partner, Agency Head and other top jobs being even more male dominated. This is also true in the fortune 500 companies in the US, where less than 5% of senior executives are women. So why is this still the case, with little apparent change for years it seems? For the most part, it is because of male “misperceptions” about women that continue to prevail and inhibit female progress. So what are the misconceptions that seem to prevail the most?

Misconception 1–Great progress has been made and it’s only a matter of time before equality in the C-suite or wider executive ranks is reached. In reality, while some strides were made in the period between 1970-1990’s there has been only incremental progress in the last 10-15 years and far greater numbers of woman middle management roles still hit the well-known glass ceiling at promotion meetings.

Misconception 2–The newer and younger generation of men is more sympathetic to women being promoted to senior executive ranks. In reality, there is no evidence for this view at all. The many arguments that would have been mounted 25 years ago (such as women are not tough, committed, focused and reliable enough amongst others) still abound in many studies of the majority of younger men who are in a position to potentially promote women. 

Misconception 3–Family/home responsibilities keep women from breaking through the glass ceiling to the C-suite. In reality, this is overwhelmingly an unsubstantiated statement made by men. When asked, less than 5% of female managers say that family and home responsibilities are a major reason and less than 10% admit to turning down a transfer in order to “stay home”. In addition, there has been an explosion in external help with home management and childcare in the last two decades. 

Misconception 4–Women executives who have children cost an organization more. In reality, research suggests that males in managerial roles take just as much time off as women when it comes to a child over the long term and therefore there is no evidence for greater costs being incurred. In addition, women now return to work much more quickly than they did a decade ago and will employ help when direct parental involvement is not possible. 

Misconception 5–Having more female executives means less opportunities for marriage and a greater chance of divorce. In reality, this is true for both male and female senior executives (meaning that there are more single and divorced people in these ranks for both sexes than the wider adult population at large). It is true however that a single/divorced woman is seen to be much less “secure” than a single/divorced man in senior managerial roles in multiple research studies. This is unfairly discriminating against women. 

Misconception 6–Women aren’t assertive/aggressive enough and lack the self-confidence required to be a “top decision-maker”.  In reality, these stereotypical views maintained by males (starting out mainly in the 1960’s as a response to feminism) have no foundation in any facts borne out by research. In addition, in modern management thinking, the more collaborative and inclusive management styles which are often stronger in women are much more valued. It is also the case that in studies of senior executives, the traits most in evidence or even most attributed to success in the job are the same for both men and women. 

Misconception 7–We have a total meritocracy today – both men and women can make it all the way to the top if they have what it takes and work hard for it. In reality, such a claim tends to be made by those who dominate the current order trying to communicate that a fair system is in place when much of the evidence points in a different direction. In practice, males executives still look to “groom” mainly male successors and women are only chosen to make up numbers or to demonstrate that they are in the running for job jobs when in fact the males are chosen much more often for senior roles.

Misconception 8–Many women who get to senior executive positions act like men and are poor role models to other women. In reality, the vast majority of senior women, as few of them as there are, are seen to be excellent role models for other women. In companies where women make it to CEO for example, it is considerably easier to hire women and many more of them will push for promotion.

Sadly then, all of the above misconceptions are still alive and active in the workplace and help to prevent more women from reaching the higher echelons of management. Other than to positively discriminate in favor of women (always a tough thing to do in a real meritocracy that women very much want too), it seems therefore that change in this area comes down to more men in positions of power becoming more enlightened. In other words, senor male executives need to “own up” to having the above views as deliberate or unchallenged misconceptions (even if it is only to some extent) and start to level the playing field. Will this happen more in the next decade? I suspect only if a few visible men at the top are prepared to lead from the front on this issue. – By Dr Jon Warner

 

The CEO Of The Future Is A “Designer-In-Chief”

A TRENDS REPORT FROM WOLFF OLINS SAYS CEOS ARE STARTING TO HARNESS THE GOOD IDEAS OF OTHERS RATHER THAN CRACKING A WHIP.

A century ago, the CEO was a fearsome whip-cracker. Fifty years ago, he was motivator dangling corporate incentives. And now, according to the 2015 Wolff Olins Leadership Report, the CEO has evolved into something new: The designer-in-chief of corporate culture, a mentoring figurehead who gets into the trenches with his employees and inspires them to create the next great innovation. How? By instilling them with the qualities that designers have: the ability to recognize problems or opportunities, propose fixes, and iterate those fixes until they’ve found the one right solution.

Bikeriderlondon via Shutterstock

“I make sure I design the mission for the company,” explained Jeremy Doutte, CEO of Nigeria’s top online retailer, Jumia.

Douette is just one of many CEOs saying more or less the same thing. The global brand consultancyWolff Olins interviewed 43 CEOs from companies like AOL and the agency Huge, and surveyed 10 leadership experts on emerging trends. Wolff Olinspublished its results for anyone to read, but to sum it up, the firm postulates that the new CEO is almost like some sort of rebel general, inspiring small guerilla-style teams to dream up new products or experiences. They rally the troops rather than outright command them. They empower their employees to think and work like designers, observing problems or scouting trends, and developing coordinating solutions that don’t get lost to bureaucracy. In essence, they need to design a culture like Apple’s, in which everyone is a designer.

From the report:

Mindset seems to sit at the heart of this new approach. If the company is to be ‘uncorporate,’ so must its leaders. Lunch is no longer for wimps, but for confident leaders wanting to share a sandwich with colleagues and get to the heart of things. Even at Coca-Cola things are changing: “I’m more eager now to hear from the people who are closest to the action” (Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola). Although unfamiliar territory, some CEOs are finding it empowering.

It’s a mindset Wolff Olins says forces CEOs to think about “inputs over outputs.” Outputs are sales figures and other corporate-designed metrics. Inputs are less tangible pieces of corporate culture; things like creating an environment where employees feel both safe and motivated enough to fail when trying something new. And in fact, 86% of CEOs Wolff Olins spoke to were focusing their energy on driving “numerous yet agile small teams,” projects that remind us of Adobe’s Red Box initiative, where employees are given $1,000 and carte blanche to develop and test new products. As Adobe’s Chief Strategist and Vice President of Creativity Mark Randall told us, only one in 1,000 of those projects needs to be a hit for the entire Red Box project to pay for itself.

Wolff Olins does caution that a CEO who approaches her employees with questions rather than answers is in an inherently precarious position, but the fact of the matter is, this sort of approach may not be optional when it comes to the younger generation of worker entering the market today. Wolff Olins polled 480 twenty-somethings about their work preferences, and almost half said two key things: 1.) they’d rather work for their own company and 2.) the company where they are employed would be better if they were in charge. Is an employee who is so self-assured ever going to respond well to top-down edicts? As Wolff Olins writes in the report, it’s a tricky tightrope to walk: “Leaders, in response, are learning to be less the visionary, less the sage, less the objective-setter, and more the shaper, the connector, the questioner. And yet at times, they also need to intervene, to insist, to control. It’s a fluid role, its shape not yet clear.”

CEOs Are Hired to be Fired, an excerpt from CEO Point Blank

CEO Point Blank

CEOs, like football coaches, don’t retire.  They always get fired.  Let me qualify that: For those of us unafraid to lead change in aging institutions, who must grapple with people in key positions who have tenure all their own, and are willing to take on the challenge of financial deficits and uncooperative teams, know this: in the end, we go out as we came in.  We get fired.  Everyone loves us on the way in because we’re going to fix things up and make their future more secure.  But once you do that, and in the process begin to demand productivity and accountability, you’re just a pain in the ass to people and they are not afraid to speak up about it.

So, no matter how anxious you are to jump in and get started at your new job, wait until you’re operating under a contract that protects your interests now and in the future.

There are many things to consider and I strongly suggest you get yourself a great human resources attorney to help you.  You want someone who works on the other side of the corporate line–the kind of attorney who, in other circumstances, might be asking you some tough questions.  I far prefer and recommend you hire an ass-kicking female attorney as in almost all the human resources litigation battles I’ve been in, opposing counsel invariably is female.  They seem to talk the talk better and also, in the majority of cases, they are talking to corporate human resources which, in my experience, is predominately where you find female executives.

Every CEO should have personal counsel that stays with you throughout your career.  He or she should understand your motives, your idiosyncrasies, your style and should help you in crafting an employment agreement that works.  Once you engage, your attorney should be kept up to date with any compensation and/or performance reviews (or the lack of same), and any other correspondence that you feel may at some point come back to harm or question you.  When you get in a jam, and you will, you don’t want to be playing dialing-for-help or worse, trying to convince a new attorney that you’re a good guy or gal.

If you’re going into a hostile environment, or if you’re going into an environment hostilely, you want a contract that basically says, hey, we all understand this is already hostile so you can’t come back later on and whack me when someone gets upset.  There are always people in organizations who are upset about change.  Where your predecessor might have let them slide a bit on meeting objectives, or let them take Friday afternoons off, you don’t; therefore, you eventually will become a thorn in someone’s side.  This can come back on you later and you want to be protected against these kinds of issues or potential allegations that come with the territory.  Your help and decisiveness that everyone loved the day you walked in are often soon forgotten.

You also need to think carefully about a parachute of some kind that keeps you going if someone pulls the plug on you.  Most contracts for the top executive will carry some sort of buyout clause.  People get sick of you, the board gets sick of you, whatever, you need to establish how much cash you have to have in order to complete the timetable of transition.  There are several tricks here.  Most attorneys will want a two-step out; the first for “good reason” or “no cause,” and the second “for cause.”  If you think you ever get a shot at the former, good luck and God bless you.  Boards always want to terminate you “for cause” and if they can get something that sticks, you lose your ability to negotiate a safe exit and you’ll wind up fighting them in court or in arbitration.   Your contract should maintain the same financial deal whether you go happy or you go being dragged down the hall on your ass.  Setting the stage up front while everyone is thrilled to be bringing you on board is a lot easier than it is when the chips are down and you are, too.  Remember, on the day they hired you they made the best decision of their lives, and that enthusiasm should work to get you the best deal for your exit on the day you start.

Another key point is to establish a travel and expense policy that meets your needs.  Write it yourself, take it to the board, have them ratify it and publish it with human resources, the controller, your executive admin, and your audit team.

Your company travel and expense policy needs to be written in accordance with your needs, which is the reason you must write it yourself.  No one in the organization understands what you do every day and also what you can’t do in order to do your job.  For instance, it is not the best use of your time to be sitting in coach, trying to find wi-fi and unable to open your laptop all the way because the guy in front of you put his seat back and is snoring happily away while you’re trying to get down the terms of a deal you just agreed to.  I always expected, both of myself and the executives who worked for me, to use flying time as work time.  There is a reason why they created first-class seats.

Make sure that the board expects the best from you and also for you.  This means you don’t always have to say who you had dinner with or who you met with in Los Angeles.  There are so many examples of how this seemingly small issue can really hurt an organization that it’s critical to your success, and the board needs to understand why.

To emphasize my advice: At one point I was actively interviewing candidates to replace two board members that had far outworn their contribution to the organization.  I had polled my executive team to discern their thoughts and we were all in complete agreement.  I set off on a journey to find suitable candidates. This required both travel and dinners, which at that level were not at McDonald’s.  Through some condition of fate, the board became aware of my actions and before I could act, they did.  In my exit interview, one of their claims “for cause” was that I failed to accurately record who I met with and where I met them.  In the interview, I refused to name the folks I talked to or where I was.  They called this insubordination and added it to the list of “for cause termination.”

In one job I had, in a company with a commodity-driven product, where I went and who I met with had the potential to move the market, and not always in a positive way.  Keeping my travel quiet and not always telling everyone where I was going was critical to my success.

Be sure your travel and expense policy allows you to move with stealth, and act to your station which may mean expensive nights out with potential execs, or flying first-class with the folks you’re making a deal with, or buying someone an expensive gift or a bottle of wine.  In short, if your board trusts you, you need to spend what you need to spend to get the job done.  Having such a policy in place helps the board remember the agreement when it comes time to part ways.

When that time comes, try not to wallow around too much in it and never allow the mud to stick to your feet.

– Ed Jenks is Senior Consultant and Chief Strategist of The Jenks Group, Inc. is a well-known and nationally recognized business professional with more than twenty-five years as a C-Suite Executive. You can follow him on http://ceopointblank.com/

What a Bit of Executive History Shows Us, an excerpt from CEO Point Blank

CEO Point Blank

The 2000s, in my opinion, have been the most trying and difficult times C-suite executives have ever faced in American history—even tougher than the Great Depression.  Not only do we have a tougher business climate, we are faced with bigger competitors—global competitors that do not operate under the same set of rules as we do in the United States.  The idea that globally things are “fair and even” and “may the best-managed company win” are concepts and beliefs shared by no one I know.

The global economy and unfair competitive practices aside, we continue to legislate and regulate ourselves internally to the point where we spend the majority of time wallowing around trying to create some kind of competitive advantage out of thin air.  I spend a lot of time thinking about exactly what happened to us as a country post World War II when we were filled with hope and confidence that when all else failed, we could outwork you.  I see great companies struggle with trying to find production efficiencies while their foreign competitors are allowed to flow products into the American market unchecked and unregulated.

I must admit to being part of the problem.  Here’s why.

Post World War II, our economy was made up primarily of family businesses that covered the range of our needs from food to clothing, transportation, and manufacturing craftsmanship.  Family businesses were passed down from generation to generation with the “secret sauce” that made the products or services unique to the region or geography they served.  You knew where your food came from, where your clothes were made, and you even knew the name of the family that made your car.

Our returning hero’s average age was twenty-six and many were returning to the family business, or turning to trades they had learned while in the military.  They were received into the workplace with open arms and the country was ready to step on the gas, fueling the largest generation of consumers the United States was ever to see.

The returning veterans were schooled in the family businesses and the discipline it took to operate them. They were charged with learning the tasks and craftsmanship of their trade because their mission was to protect the family homestead and their families relied on them.  Those that had new talents put them to use, still with the idea of making America stronger and their lives better.

The results speak for themselves.  Some of the strongest financial years in America were from 1945 through 1965.

And then things got tweaked.  Our foreign policy became unpopular.  The average age of an infantryman in Vietnam was twenty-two. Our youth (I was one of them) rebelled against everything that even resembled someone telling us what to do.  Belonging to anything was frowned upon.  I remember being at college one fall and seeing a group of guys spray painting a sign over a fraternity house door that said, “It’s wrong to belong.”  We had begun to question everything, believe in nothing but freedom—whatever that was—and reject the foundational pillars that had given us the best economic conditions in the history of the world with the highest standard of living yet to be experienced.

It took a few years for the rebellious students of the 1960s and 1970s to get around to work, as most of us went to college, and many on the six-year plan.  As we began to assume positions of authority, we slowly began to bring our rebellious nature to the workplace:  We threw out tradition. We didn’t need to wear a stinking tie–we worked better in flip-flops.  We worked in cubicles because offices created “silos.”  I remember listening with rapt attention to one of the long-haired business gurus of the time with a primetime audience tell us to break down the silos, that big oil was making too much money, and the banks were ripping us off.  He had all the answers.  Get your people a meditation room–that’s what attracts the real talent.

We all drank that Kool-Aid and we changed the face of American business just as we had changed the face of American culture fifteen years prior.  The results speak for themselves.

Please understand that I am not accusing, because I was part of that movement and I was a leader at the C-suite level.  As I look back at my career, I always felt like something was missing.  No matter my success, I always felt a bit hollow.  I think back on my college days and wonder why I didn’t buck the trend and rush that fraternity.

We had all lost our business discipline.  I could make money; that was the easy part.  But I couldn’t control my attitude and approach to anything that resembled authority and control, and believe me, I wasn’t alone.  Everyone was stupid, no one could keep up with me, and I wanted to run ahead of them and demand they keep up with me.  Rules were for other people, not for me.  I was so good at the money-making part that most of the time, people would leave me alone because they knew inherently that they were better off for me running off like a mad man and putting money in their pockets.

I am sixty years old, and though I’ve lived life well I am still discovering and facing the truth about myself and looking to be better for it.  I want to be the person who finds a way to get through to other C-suite executives and prove to them that silos work, we can be competitive globally, it is okay to be a leader, and that the single greatest gift you can bring to an organization is discipline: order overlaid with a huge dose of forgiveness.  If we are to bring our economy back to any level of dominance, we must be disciplined in our approach and willing to subjugate ourselves to our mission.

– Ed Jenks is Senior Consultant and Chief Strategist of The Jenks Group, Inc. is a well-known and nationally recognized business professional with more than twenty-five years as a C-Suite Executive.

 

The Jenks Group Hones Skills of Top Executives with US SEALs Training

 US Navy SEALs teach executives

 

—It’s not easy to get, and hold, the attention of a busy executive. But the Jenks Groups, Inc. (TJGI), a boutique strategic services consulting firm in Solana Beach, CA, has developed a program that’s hard to ignore: they employ US Navy SEALs—and weapons—to educate and sharpen the tactical skills of senior executives. In a one-of-a-kind experience called “Strategic Operations Skills Training” (S.O.S.T.™), seasoned executives participate in physically and mentally challenging exercises that provide them with a fresh outlook and renewed traction toward achieving their corporate goals.

Four years in the making, The Jenks Group’s program uses a realistic battlefield on a San Diego TV/movie studio lot to instill six “game-changing” skills into an executive’s arsenal. State-of-the-art Hollywood special effects heighten the experience for S.O.S.T. participants.

In developing their program, TJGI founding principal Sharon Jenks studied the characteristics that made some executives successful while others struggled. “Far and above any other specific trait, the ability to execute on assigned initiatives is what separated those who are extremely successful from those who struggle,” she says. “What we determined is that there are hard skills that can be taught—and more importantly, managed—that turn mediocre into movement.”

One of the challenges, she realized, was in educating and motivating senior executives to manage the change that’s required to move a company forward. “Once someone is engaged for a few years, they tend to settle into a routine that delivers a predictable outcome, and that’s good,” she says. “The downside is that in settling into that routine, they also deliver a routine outcome. Our S.O.S.T. program helps break up the logjam and offers the executive participant an opportunity to learn new skills that provide different perspectives.”

Over the course of one or two days, executive groups participate in intensive physical and mental exercises to acquire six skills modeled on successful US Navy SEALs strategies. “If you want to meet a team of the most highly trained task-to-mission experts in the world,” says Jenks, “those would be our US Navy SEALs instructors. They are top drawer game-changers.” The skills learned in field exercises are subsequently debriefed in the classroom. “There’s absolutely no other program out there like this,” emphasizes Ed Jenks, principal and senior strategist for TJGI. “It’s hands-on experiential and backs up the exercises with game-changing lessons that tie directly back to the C-suite.”

One executive who took advantage of an opportunity to preview the program said it redefined for him the importance of good communication during high-stress activities. “It was pretty amazing,” said Jim Canfield, CEO of Renaissance Executive Forums. “I think what it does is allow you to feel what it really feels like when you’re in the middle of split-second decision making.” The experience also underscored the value of team unification in order to achieve mission success. It was critical, he found, while negotiating a simulated battlefield, to “make sure the whole team knows what we’re trying to accomplish, that everybody knows their part.”

The S.O.S.T. program may not be for everyone. The training manual warns that it’s “an aggressive, experiential exercise that can carry some bumps and bruises along the learning path not to mention incredibly fun.” But for those executives seeking to drive their management team’s performance, The Jenks Group and a few US Navy SEALs have some game-changing ammunition.

About Strategic Operations Skills Training (S.O.S.T.)

S.O.S.T.™ is an experiential educational program designed to train executive teams in six “game-changing” hard skills. The program runs over one or two days and those days may be split over the course of three to six months. Each skill builds on the last and increases in intensity as the physical, intellectual, emotional and sometimes spiritual challenges become more apparent. Skills learned in field exercises are subsequently debriefed in the classroom for takeaway traction back to the executive suite. The program can be scaled for relevancy and specificity to divisional areas, and can be tailored to meet the needs and expectations unique to each organization. For more information, please visit www.sosttraining.com.

Strategic Operations Skills Training (S.O.S.T.) Fast Roping

US Navy SEALs teach executives

 

 

 

Behind the scenes in our S.O.S.T. program, participants are learning new skills that will apply to their Mission. Taught by US Navy SEALs, each of these skills are transferable to the workplace. The only way you can learn how is to experience it yourself. An experience you will never forget, as you push yourself out of your comfort zone.

In this quick clip, Alpha and Bravo Teams are readying for Game Changing Skill #6 – “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday”

 

Find out how your team can experience this game changing program at http://www.sosttraining.com