I was meeting with two CEOs this past week to discuss their hiring needs, staff-level as well as refilling executive positions within their organizations. It struck me during both conversations that many CEOs want to grow and learn, but only in what they want to grow and learn in

Imagine this: You have a conversation with a direct report, showing them where they are deficient and how the organization is suffering as a result. They ignore it and continue to only focus on the areas they like and understand. CEOs do this all the time.

They spend most of their time in two areas, sales and product, and many tend to fail because they solely focus on what their expertise is rather than where the revenue will come from, or why it's not coming in (read The E-Myth Revisited...an oldie but goodie for any SME entrepreneur).

In candid conversations with CEOs, one truth comes to the forefront: They play favorites and jump into divisions or business practices they enjoy, not ones that need them. Proof? They keep replacing leaders in divisions they don't "like," and jump in, mentor and work alongside leaders of units they do enjoy. It's human nature.

Very rarely do you turn on a business show, read a blog or listen to a podcast where a CEO doesn't say people are the company's most important asset. Yet, as soon as they can, most CEOs move human resources to report to the COO or CFO. Why? A few reasons:

  1. It's too time consuming. People aren't machines and take time.

  2. Not a high enough EQ. They don't get the challenges that exist, and instead operate under a "if they can't do it, replace them" mentality, which goes counter to caring about the people.

  3. They say HR needs more attention than they can provide. Yet the CFO or COO has more bandwidth and cares more about the people than the CEO?

Not every CEO came up through accounting or finance, so it's not second nature. They are more client-focused and want to gain more revenue, market share and of course, profitability. So, they hire a CFO and defer to them rather than ask to learn from them. Why would a CEO want to spend a day locked in a room with a CFO learning about their business in an area they don't 100% understand? When instead, they could be meeting a client, talking about something they really understand (their company's offerings) and having a sense of being viewed as a SME rather than a novice.

Tom! You've got it all wrong. CEOs are supposed to delegate. CEOs are supposed to hire people who are better than they are in all areas. That's the mark of a great leader. I absolutely agree; however, there is nothing that says CEOs shouldn't learn from these underlings. There is nothing that states underlings don't get stronger from time spent with their CEO. 

As a CEO, invest in all your leaders and let them teach you...you'll be surprised what you find out (not all of it good), and how positively you will make people feel.  Plus, if something is your favorite, it's probably someone else's, too.  Delegate the fun stuff, it will show people how much they mean to you and the organization.

If you like this post, follow @TomGimbel for more.

Published on: Sep 26, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.