Every executive has his or her own style of leadership, and every executive has learned lessons about what works best for a company. But some behaviors will never result in success, no matter how many times you repeat them.
Here are five things you should never do if you want to be an effective executive today.
1. Don't react impulsively.
We've all shaken our heads at CEOs who fail to confront a problem and stick their heads in the sand. But equally bad is the exec who responds with a kneejerk reaction because he doesn't want to deal with (or maybe can't see) the underlying issues.
For example, a CEO forms a first impression that a particular employee isn't doing a great job. Rather than offer that employee the opportunity to improve, he makes a snap judgment and lets the person go. I've seen this happen, and honestly, I doubted that the employee even had a performance problem. More likely, the real issue was about communication or the CEO's own unwillingness to let go of the reins--but he didn't see it. Successful execs look at many angles. They don't act rashly without making an effort to understand a situation or explore options.
2. Don't rest on your laurels.
Most companies that succeed are started by visionaries with a clear mental picture of how to solve a specific pain point. Take the founder of Uber, for example. He was frustrated because he couldn't get a cab and thought, "Wouldn't it be great if I could use my phone to get a ride?" Bingo! The problem is that once you've launched your company successfully, and you've acquired satisfied customers, you can be lulled into believing that "if you build it, they will come." And that's dangerous.
Good leaders cannot just assume that success begets success. Success comes from delivering products and services that address real problems--and unless you know what those problems are, you can't solve them. At Jobvite, we began with a vision that centered on leveraging social networks for employee referrals. But our continued success now comes from listening to our customers and channeling their ongoing pain points into new products. You have to keep seeking meaningful input.
3. Don't believe your own bull.
When you're the CEO, or any senior executive, people will naturally defer to you. All you have to do is to raise your voice once when someone disagrees with you, and you can rest assured that for the next few weeks, everyone will think whatever you say is brilliant. Unfortunately, this can fool you into thinking that people believe in what you are saying more than they really do.
This is yet another reason that execs must seek honest feedback. Reach out for opinions from as low in the organization as possible. Reach out to customers. And reach out to your board of directors, too. While they'll outwardly support you because of the influence of your position, they won't hesitate to show you the door if they don't truly believe you're steering the company on the right course. It takes courage to solicit criticism from people who might disagree with you, but it's imperative.
4. Don't leave your board out of the boat.
Board members typically have large portfolios of companies they advise, and most also have their own full-time jobs. So CEOs get this responsibility complex where they think they have to handle everything alone. They don't want to bother their board of directors until they're in a situation where something's gone wrong, and by then, it's often too late.
I had this happen when I served on a company's board years ago. I was a busy guy--and the only information I ever got was positive, so I had no reason to question the company's overall health. Then I got a call from a CEO explaining a problem that stumped me. I kept thinking, "Why am I just now hearing about this?" I want my board members to feel like they are not "standing on the dock" watching the business, but are "in the boat" with the team involved in the business. I cannot be on a solo journey. I need the Board of Directors to accompany me and engage in an ongoing dialogue about where we're headed. I like my board members in the boat and knowing that if a sticky situation arises, they have context for the issue, and there are no surprises. It's true, having this kind of relationship with your board requires a big investment of time and energy--but it's an investment that pays off.
5. Don't mistake your own opinion for market opinion.
If you haven't noticed, there's a common theme in all of these bad behaviors, and that's not getting real-world feedback and believing too much in your own view of the world. This almost certainly spells doom when you start to think your personal outlook represents the outlook of the entire market to which you are selling. It never does.
I remember back in my first marketing class in business school when the professor asked us what percentage of Americans would claim fishing as their favorite hobby. Everyone dramatically underestimated the percentage when in fact it was and is one of the top hobbies of Americans. (Now fourth behind reading, TV watching, spending time with kids and family, according to Harris Interactive poll). The lesson? That relying solely on your own personal perspective will NOT give you an accurate answer. You have to go to the market - outside the walls of your company - to get input on the pain points and demand of real people and companies. And again, this takes work. It takes effort. But without seeking this ongoing feedback, without really talking to and listening to your customers and prospects, you'll never have the insight to spot potential warning signs and frailties.