4 Things Business Leaders Should Avoid at Year's End


By Wayne Rivers, Family Business Institute

It's important for leaders to know what to do, but isn't it of equal importance for leaders to know what NOT to do? Knowing what not to do narrows the menu of choices, focuses the mind, and makes the most of a leader’s valuable time. What's the biggest barrier to an executive utilizing his or her time wisely?

While this is almost certainly stepping on reader’s toes, it’s YOU! It is the leader himself or herself! We are our own worst enemies. Even Superman had to avoid kryptonite, and the kryptonite for most leaders is that they can't say no. They are pulled in so many directions every day, and they're either unable or unwilling to say no to people and things. What are the four things CEOs should not be doing as 2020 comes to its end?

  1. First, CEOs shouldn't wear too many hats. Every CEO ought to have a job description. In fact, several of our peer group members recently requested president and CEO job descriptions for themselves. They want to know what roles are highest and best for successful leaders. Smart CEOs delegate. They build teams of equals. In a recent phone conversation, a client revealed that he had fired his CFO because he wasn't doing CFO things. For example, he wasn't able to forecast and manage some other parts of the company's finances. Thinking about what a replacement CFO needs to look like I recommended that the CEO look for someone who is his intellectual and business equal. A good CFO needs to be able to challenge his CEO. You shouldn't have to tell your financial leader, "I want this, this, and this." He should be coming to you offering strategic improvement ideas of his own. Surround yourself with executives who are just as smart, energetic, and capable as you are. A team of equals will drive you and your business forward that much faster. Don't wear too many hats, and get people to whom you can delegate with confidence and trust.

  2. Second, don’t answer too many questions. Among the best lessons I've learned in business is when someone comes up to me with a question, my answer is, "Hmm. I don't know. What do you think we should do?" You have to train your people to think on their feet, to think for themselves, and take action and initiative on their own. If they must come to you for every little question, you’re building yourself a trap. You're marrying yourself to your company so that you can't have that beautiful thing called freedom by age 60 or 65. You won't be able to take long vacations and enjoy your grandchildren and friends as otherwise you could. I've talked to many contractors who, over their entire careers, have never been able to take more than a week of vacation at a time without the morbid fear their company wheels will come off. It's a shame to be successful in business, to own a company, to be well regarded in your community and, at the same time, be incapable of taking a vacation that big company employees take for granted. Don’t answer too many questions.

  3. The third thing you should not be doing is under-communicating. Last week I got a nice call from my boss, and he wasn't really calling about anything. There wasn't a problem, a new initiative, or a new opportunity. It was just a "Hey, how are you doing? We haven't talked in a while. Just checking up on you." It sounds almost too simple, but checking in with your people ("How are you doing? How's the family? Anything going on that we need to know about? Anything we can help you with?") is a powerful team building tool. In addition to checking in, make sure you’re not under-communicating your values, vision, and mission. Also, keep preaching the gospel about goals, goal attainment, and progress that you're making.

  4. Finally, don’t allow your employees to experience recurring problems. One of the key parts of that CEO job description is to clear obstacles from your employees’ paths. Give them the resources they need to do their jobs really well whether it's technology, training, or just advocacy. Be sure to budget for training and education in 2021 and keep giving your employees the resources they need to be successful. Everybody wins in that situation.

CEOs should focus their time and energy on high payoff, game changing activities. Knowing what NOT to do as an executive is an important part of that equation.