Why CEOs Falter

This post is based on a a significant number of real world cases where the client, a here-to-fore strong leader seemed to falter.



So,  … you have a history of successful leadership in prior posts. Maybe even in your current post. And, suddenly, not so much: worry; hesitation; poor decisions; delay on critical decisions; avoidance of new, but essential commitments.

I have been asked many times: “What are the recurring themes that are evident in coaching CEOs through tough periods?” Never mind that some situations are overwhelming market or competitive shifts that may even challenge the business model. Or disruptive technology that questions the viability of the firm. There are no guarantees. But when hindsight reveals poor choices were made, what are the lessons learned? What was inside the mind of the CEO?


At or near the top of the list driving you off your game is a FAILURE TO BRING ALL YOUR CAPACITIES TO THE PLAYING FIELD.

At root is either

  • a strongly held belief that is untrue or no longer true or
  • a fear that is hogging your windshield, holding you back, driving unsuccessful behavior.

Whether emotion is dwarfing intuition or wisdom or your own ego is blinding you, or your confidence has been shaken or you may not be listening, you may be playing defense when you should be playing offense or vice versa, failing to adapt your style to one or more of your key people…you get the idea. Look in the mirror and ask yourself: is what I believe or fear at the heart of this?


Second on the list of what is driving you off your game is a FAILURE TO BRING ALL THE RESOURCES IN YOUR ECOSYSTEM TO BEAR.

At root could be more than a few things:

  • Less than robust and effective delegation with permission to push back
  • No “go-to” on the senior management team or next level
  • Avoidance of engaging capable outside resources (experts, non-competing fellow CEOs, consultants) for extreme frugality, worry over confidentiality
  • Minimal outside affiliations and networking
  • No safe “personal board of directors”

Again, could the flip-side of any of these increase your effectiveness? Are you the focal point when maybe someone else should be?


Also at or near the top of the list is a FAILURE TO STAY FOCUSED ON THE ENDGAME. Getting stuck in the weeds, overwhelmed, distracted by the shiny new object.

At root could again be more than one fact:

  • Overwhelming tactical challenges
  • Getting lost in the weeks
  • An undisciplined sense of what is the job of the CEO and what is not (limiting time and energy for strategic thinking)

And as the role model for others, if you falter for any of these root causes, if the way you lead does not develop your people, others may follow suit or the strong may defect,


“Nobody succeeds alone.”

“O was some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us! It wad frae monie a blunder and free us from foolish option.” (Robert Burns)

Whether it is a coach, a mentor, a trusted HR chief (really: I have seen this), the only way humans become aware of these possibly temporary failures or missed opportunities is through someone else’s lens.

Beyond: in my next post I will enumerate some of the tools that address root causes and also suggest some video viewing and reading worth the investment of time and concentration.

As a start, view “Locating yourself — a key to Conscious Leadership” on Youtube. It is based on IP trademarked by Partners in Leadership IP, LLC.

Does this resonate? It’s just my view. What’s yours?


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What Made jack welch JACK WELCH

How Ordinary People Become
Extraordinary Leaders

by Stephen H. Baum (Random House)

Most leaders of American companies started out as ordinary people. What prepared them for the top job?

Countless more ordinary people of equal talent never developed the leadership core required to run the show. Why not?

"Lessons for life about the core leadership traits of character, risk taking decisiveness and the ability to engage and inspire followers."
--Jim Clifton, CEO, The Gallup Organization


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