Editor's Note

The paradox of the ultimate decider.

By Steve LeBeau
Mon, 2017-01-16 12:49

In our Second Annual CEO Survey, we found that the single biggest fear that keeps CEOs up at night is worrying about making the right decision. Whether they talk over their problems with their executive team, peer groups or their spouse, the CEO carries the burden of responsibility for making the final decision. After all, their decisions impact a lot of people, especially the employees.
It is no wonder that the second biggest fear that CEOs have is “Employee Disruption.” Is their company doing all it can to attract, retain and place employees in the most appropriate positions? In a question about priorities, the number one answer is “People and Culture.” Employees come out on top in yet another question, this one about the greatest business challenges. The biggest challenge is “The Right Staff and Staff Flexibility”. 
Even beyond their performance as workers and as collaborators in problem-solving, employees also play an important role as the extended eyes and ears of the CEO, keeping track of what is really going on in a company. Awareness of problems is an important facet of being a CEO, and the top answer about awareness is: “I always know what’s going on; I talk to people.” Indeed, we looked into the daily routines of two CEOs in manufacturing, and one of their most faithful habits is spending time on the factory floor and talking to people.
By design, an underlying topic in this year’s survey is how CEOs balance the opposing forces of stability and change. This dichotomy is as old as civilization. We strive to keep things from changing for the sake of security, but we also need the freedom to change things in order to survive. Or, as a wise man once sang, you have to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. Yes — the struggle between security and freedom has always been with us, but here in the 21st century, we need to come up with a new name for it, and so we have the Strategic Agility Paradox. I was fortunate to collaborate with a specialist in this new concept, Rico Mace, CEO of Orman Guidance, who recently completed his doctoral dissertation on Strategic Agility. Much thanks to Rico for helping to design the survey, and interpreting the results.
All CEOs carry the Trumanesque burden of “The buck stops here,” but on the upper end of the scale it’s more like, “The megabucks stop here.” Why do top-end CEOs get paid salaries that make Powerball winnings look like small change? Are they worth it? No, say some, like former ADC CEO Chuck Denny. At the same time many CEOs firmly believe it’s not just about the money, but a way to do good in the world. And sometimes the joy of work can even help one overcome personal problems.
Despite a lot of concern about the new POTUS, there is nevertheless a lot of optimism among CEOs in this issue, especially those like Northstar CEO Ed Deutschlander, whose company bends over backward to groom its employees. Yes, the top deciders may be the most important, but the wise ones are mighty humble about it. The best CEOs appreciate their people.