Next Generation of CEOs

The Next Generation of CEOs: 10 CEO Ready Leaders

Next Generation of CEOs

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Disclosure: My company, N2growth has worked with many of the organizations represented on this list.

Lots of executives aspire to become a CEO, but few actually possess the leadership chops to pull it off. As someone who earns their living as a leadership advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs, I always keep a sharp eye peeled for up and coming leaders. The 10 leaders profiled below represent different industries, different disciplines, and even a few different countries, but they all share one thing in common – they’re all CEO ready. Meet my predictions (in no particular order) for the next crop of chief executives…

Should CEOs Have Term Limits?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Leadership Term LimitsI have read some interesting articles and blog posts of late on the subject of CEO term limits, and felt this topic worthy of discussion. You should know from the outset that I fundamentally disagree with the concept of CEO term limits, and quite frankly I cannot really come up with a valid reason for supporting such a regressive concept. Any such argument in my opinion is rooted either in flawed business logic or politically correct rhetoric (usually one in the same). I would encourage you to read my arguments in opposition to CEO term limits, as well as to think through the ramifications on the corporate landscape if such thinking were to ever take hold…

Okay sure, the topic of CEO term limits makes for a nice sound bite given some of the C-suite debacles that have laundered the front pages of the media in recent times. However it is my opinion that rogue CEOs are the exception and not the rule. Why would we want to institute yet another bureaucratically mandated, one size fits all solution that addresses the symptom and not the problem? My basic feeling on the topic of CEO Term Limits can be summed-up with this quote:

There exists a season for all things, but decisive, prudent & principled leadership never goes out of season.” ~Mike Myatt, 2003

With the average CEO tenure hovering at an all time low, who needs CEO Term Limits anyway? Why would you ever want the person in charge of corporate leadership, vision and strategy to be a lame duck right from the get go? Furthermore, last time I checked a CEO can always be removed for lack of performance, or moral and ethical indiscretions, so what purpose do CEO term limits serve other than to disincentivize the CEO?

The basic flaw in most arguments in support of CEO term limits stems from a belief that tenure is somehow a very relevant metric, and that there is some mystical optimum time to serve. WRONG…The simple truth of the matter is that the time needed to attain performance goals varies depending among other things the age, size and competitive positioning of the company, the industry, sector and vertical, etc. Stating that a CEO of a start-up should operate with the same term limit constraints of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company is very unrealistic and dangerous thinking.  

Great CEOs possess the ability to refine their thinking and leadership skills to reflect the evolving needs of the enterprise and the changing global business climate. CEOs that cannot operate fluidly and contextually won’t be effective whether they hold the job for 12 minutes or 12 years. Chronological tenure is not the issue…business savvy, leadership ability, and the ability to provide a certainty of execution should constitute the metrics surrounding CEO performance evaluation.

An additional argument in support for CEO term limits is based upon the premise that the price of CEO terms that last too long goes deeper than the obvious performance metrics…that there is somehow the missed opportunity of a different vision, never heard and never realized. This line of thinking assumes that a CEO is operating statically within a vacuum. Great CEOs are the glue that provides continuity between vision and strategy. Great CEOs provide inspiration and leadership, as well as offer a steady hand at the wheel. They also seek the advice and counsel of their board and executive team in addition to a plethora of outside advisers. Great CEOs adapt, improvise and overcome…they are not static eunuchs operating inside a bubble.   

The issue has never been, nor should it ever become, how long a chief executive remains in the position based solely or arbitrarily on the issue of tenure. Rather the issue should be based on something as simple as the following question: does the CEO deserve to keep their job based upon performance?  If you want to drive CEO performance, start by hiring the right person for the job. Then follow-up your great hiring decision by providing the CEO with the tools and resources necessary to get the job done. Compensate the CEO for performance, and hold him or her accountable for a lack thereof…its just that simple.  

If you have the wrong CEO replace him or her…If your board of directors is asleep at the wheel and does not hold the CEO accountable shame on them, but CEO term limits…why? The simple truth of the matter is that corporate impatience driven by the short-term mentality of Wall St. is most often times incongruous with the long-term best interests of shareholders. My recommendation is not to hand-cuff or bridle your CEO, rather give the CEO room to lead, maneuver, innovate and succeed. But hey, what do I know?

I’d love your thoughts on this subject – Do you think leadership has a shelf-life? If so why? If not why not? Sound off in the comments below…

Questions and Team Building

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Question and Team BuildingAn army of one isn’t really much of an army is it? And I can assure you that any CEO who views him/herself as an army of one will fail. Whether you like it or not, your success as a CEO will be largely tied to your team building ability. Not only do great CEOs understand how to recruit a top executive team, but they also understand how to build cohesion among team members through collaboration while addressing specific situational and contextual needs. Great CEOs realize the importance of being consistently, purposefully and intensely engaged with their CXOs. They understand how to effectively deploy these highly productive and valuable team members to create tremendous leverage and velocity across the enterprise. In today’s post I’ll share the questions that great CEOs use to align the interests and focus the efforts of their executive team…

It is not uncommon when working with new clients that I find very fractured executive teams where team members more frequently work against one another, rather than with one another (see “Managing Tough Relationships“). I often observe ego centered conflicts among senior executives, which turn into a competition for turf, budget, power, influence, control, and ultimately survival. As a CEO you can either pit your executives against one another, or have them collaboratively engage in supporting one another for the overall good of the enterprise. An executive team that actually embraces the concept of collaboration will substantially out perform a silo-centric executive team focused on empire building.

Great CEOs not only view their interactions with team members as coaching and mentoring opportunities, but also as learning opportunities for themselves. If as a leader you don’t take the time to get to know your team members on a very personal basis you simply won’t build the trust necessary to successfully weather the seasons of leadership. Because all leaders face good times and bad, it is essential that strong, caring, and loyal relationships are established so that candor and collaboration can occur irrespective of the situation at hand. 

I read a great post yesterday by Dan Rockwell (@LeadershipFreak) in which he asked: ”what’s the most powerful question of all?” My belief is that there is no perfect question, just the right question for the moment. The comment I left on Dan’s post was as follows: 

“Thought provoking post to be sure…However my belief is that the most powerful question of all is the one that works within the context of the situation at hand. The question must be appropriate to the person(s) being addressed, the timing must be spot-on, but most importantly it must unlock the door to reveal the needed input/feedback/information.

Relying on any single question to serve as the omnibus catch-all question is dangerous. I’m not sure what the most powerful question in the world is, but I know that the most powerful question of the moment changes frequently…”

Therefore in the text that follows I’ll provide you with a resource that is immediately actionable, and highly productive – a list of questions that can be used across situations, constituencies and reporting lines. I have found that one of the most effective ways for CEOs to lead their senior executives is by helping them refine and justify their reasoning through the use of intelligent questions. This serves to not only align interests and areas of focus, but also to facilitate the exchange of insights, and to acquire useful knowledge and information – it also builds stronger relationships. Contrary to the beliefs of some, dialog is a healthy thing. I strongly recommend to all CEOs that they routinely ask team members the following questions: 

  • Why? (my personal favorite and the most powerful one word question on the planet)
  • How can I help you with that? What do you need from me in order to make that happen?
  • That’s an interesting thought, what process did you go through to reach that conclusion?
  • What’s our biggest risk in this, and what’s your fallback position? 
  • What if we did nothing at all, what would happen?
  • Why is this important to you?
  • What does this accomplish for us?
  • If we fail in this can we live with that?
  • How does this add value to our <<fill in the blank>>?
  • Can you give me a bit more detail on the logic used to arrive at your <<costs, timing, return estimates, etc.>>?
  • How will this impact <<individual, team, business unit, competitive advantage, brand perception, customer satisfaction, etc.>>?
  • What are the greatest challenges you face in pulling this off, and how do you plan to deal with them? 
  • Where do you see “X” account in <<insert time period>> and what can we do to (improve customer satisfaction, increase influence with key stakeholders, increase the life-cycle value,  etc.)?
  • Which markets, partners, clients, or other opportunities can add significant value to our business?
  • What specific steps can you take to increase your area’s contribution margin? 
  • Does this add value to our core business? How? Why?
  • Does this effectively and efficiently support our values, vision, and strategy? How? Why?
  • What can you offer as validation of proof of concept? 
  • What motivates <<insert person’s name>>? What’s really important to them?
  • What will be the key performance indicators for this? How will we measure them, and what hurdles do we need to hit to be successful?
  • Do you have the necessary resources (financial, technology, talent, infrastructure, etc.) to hit your objectives?
  • How can we improve the risk management, governance, control, and reporting functions for this?
  • Why should we make this investment? How does it drive revenue, profit, brand equity, competitive advantage, etc. What are the potential risks vs. possible rewards and what is the downside of not making the investment?
  • What are your biggest obstacles and barriers to success? What are your plans to deal with them and what do you need from me?
  • Are all your resources properly aligned and connected?
  • What are the weakest points in your area and how do you plan to deal with them?
  • Who are your strongest leaders and how are you developing them to handle more responsibility?
  • What are you doing to attract new talent?

While the aforementioned list of questions is clearly not exhaustive, it offers some insight into where a CEO should focus their efforts and attention…Perhaps best of all it places you in a constant position of being an active listener, learner, and mentor. If you have a favorite question(s) you use to focus and/or refine your team’s thinking that you’d like to share, please leave a comment below…

What All Great Leaders Have In Common

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The secret of all great leaders: ReadingAll great leaders have one thing in common: They read voraciously. Did you know that the average American only reads one book a year? Worse than this is the fact that 60% of average Americans only get through the first chapter. Contrast this with the fact that CEOs of Fortune 500 companies read an average of four to five books a month. Even more impressive is that some of the most successful leaders throughout history were known to read one book every single day. Bottom line…If you’re a leader and not an avid reader, you’re wrong. In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts on the value of reading…

If the statistics in the opening paragraph didn’t convince you of the power of reading, here are a few more telling observations for your consideration – according to our surveys at N2growth, a very large common denominator shared by executives who feel that they are not achieving the level of success they feel capable of, is that many of them are “too busy to keep up with their reading.” Hmmm…. Furthermore, studies show that active readers are likely to have annual incomes more than 5 times greater than those who spend little or no time reading. Do I have your attention yet?

Up until a few years ago Rick Warren read a book every single day. Abraham Lincoln who only had one year of formal education credited his appetite for reading with his success. Teddy Roosevelt was rumored to actually read two books a day. Thomas Jefferson had one of the most exhaustive personal libraries of his time prior to donating it to the Library of Congress (which many joked Roosevelt had read). The moral of my story continues to be that in order to be a great leader, you absolutely must be a great reader. 

As an advisor to CEOs, there is little doubt that I’m passionate about personal and professional development, and there is one simple reason why – it works. Great leaders are like a sponge when it comes to the acquisition of knowledge, the development of new skill sets, and the constant refinement of existing competencies. To the person, the best leaders I know are prolific readers. The most successful people I know consume written content at a pace that far exceeds that of the average person. My message today is a simple one – if you want to improve your station in life, as well as the lives around you – read more.

While there are certainly numerous ways to learn (observation, experience, classroom instruction, relational interactions, etc.), I am a huge fan of the benefits of professional development gained from good old-fashioned reading. Someone once said “you are what you read” and while I think there is far more to the equation of our individual make-up than our choice of reading material, the statistics mentioned above prove there is also an element of truth contained in the aforementioned quote.

If I told you how much time I spend reading and researching you probably wouldn’t believe me, but suffice it to say, I am a voracious reader. I will often read a book in one sitting, have more than a dozen books presently underway on my Kindle, subscribe to online clipping services, use RSS feeds to scour news groups & forums, I devour social content on blogs, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, various iPhone apps, etc., and this is in addition to reading a variety of industry publications and periodicals.

With what I’ve noted thus far I’m always amazed at the number of executives who don’t keep up with their professional reading. To be blunt, I have little patience for those leaders who are “too busy” or “too smart” or “too important” to learn. Put simply, if you’re not learning you have no business leading. How can you possibly be expected to grow an organization if you’re not growing yourself? How can you accept the responsibility to develop a team if you’re not developing yourself?

The greatest leaders throughout history have been nothing short of relentless in their pursuit of knowledge. If you are anything less then you are not only cheating yourself, but you’re also cheating your organization.  I believe Michelangelo said it best when he uttered the words “Ancora Imparo” which when translated from the Italian means “I am still learning.” By the way, his first public use of this phrase was noted to have been on his 87th Birthday. I don’t know about you, but I’m still learning. Moreover, the day I stop reading, the day I stop learning – that’s the day I stop leading and likely the day I stop breathing. 

Let me be clear that when I speak of acquiring knowledge, I’m not promoting intellectual elitism, rather I’m espousing the benefits that are derived by those who have a true and sincere passion for learning…there is a difference. Intellectual elitists are by-in-large braggarts that acquire knowledge (or feign possession thereof) for public acclaim and their own self-promotion. Learning serves little purpose for leaders if it is not actionable. If you acquire knowledge, yet choose not to use it for the benefit of others then you’re not a leader, you’re self indulgent. 

In concurrence with Michelangelo’s quote above, I have never been a believer in the adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  In fact quite to the contrary, I believe anyone (yes I mean anyone) can change/learn/grow/develop given one prerequisite; the desire to do so. When it comes to topic of learning, it has been my experience that there are generally three types of people: those who constantly seek to acquire knowledge, those who think they already know it all, and those who just don’t care. What distinguishes members of one group from another rarely has anything to do with intellect, wealth, social pedigree, career standing, or other like pursuits…It has everything to do with desire.

Reading should not be something that is done when you’re bored, or have nothing better to do, rather it needs to be incorporated into your daily regimen. I have personally worked with literally hundreds of C-suite executives and without question the most successful professionals are those that constantly seek out learning opportunities and who are voracious readers. They realize the importance of learning and make reading a priority. Think of the business leaders that have had the biggest positive impact in your life, and I’m sure you’ll find that these individuals were in constant search of new and better information. They use the information acquired through reading in order to inspire, motivate, and lead those around them.

The question is not if you should be reading, but rather what should you be reading? With the plethora of reading material on the market today it is not a simple thing to make sure that you’re covering all the bases in a time efficient fashion. Therefore the following tips were designed to help you get the most out of your reading while maintaining efficiency in your reading efforts:

Books: My first piece of advice is that if you don’t own a Kindle or other e-reader, go get one. It’s much easier to have your reading material in one completely portable, digitally organized reader than it is to go old school and tote your books and magazines with you. 

Periodicals, Trade Publications and Industry Journals: Again, not being able to address the specific needs of each reader, you must make your own choices here as well. However being aware of industry trends, competitive positioning, who the thought leaders are, etc. are all critical to your success. Pick the top couple of publications in your industry, sector, vertical or micro-vertical and pour-over the content looking for opportunities to exploit. Most print publications now also have Internet versions, Kindle editions, or digital newsletters that can be subscribed to as well.

Digital Media: If you’re reading this post then you probably understand the value of blogs, but don’t ignore, other forms of social content like Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin Groups, Forums, and News Portals. Don’t forget information that can be gleaned from services like Google Alerts and other online clipping services and aggregators. What I particularly like about this genre is that it is often “real time” information as opposed to other mediums that have a built in latency factor.  Another benefit is that much of the content produced in this medium is not from the typical industry pundits, but rather true “in the trenches” thought leaders that see things coming long before journalists report it in the news, or the so-called gurus publish it in their latest book. This medium has been my preferred reading choice for a number of years now because it is extremely productive and time effective. I subscribe to these venues because I’m able to be “pushed” content that I’ve asked for in a medium that I enjoy. If you are not a heavy consumer of online information you are truly missing the boat.

Whether young or old, experienced or inexperienced, the best way to approach personal and professional development is to always stay in the learning zone. When you think you have all the answers is when you are headed straight for the proverbial brick wall. That said, most things in life happen as a result of choices we make…It is clearly within your grasp to make the choice to gain an understanding of what it is that you don’t know, and determine how you want to deal with that situation. My recommendation is simple, if you want to increase you income, your impact or your influence, then I would suggest you increase your reading. 

If you have any additional tips, or want to recommend any great books, please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below. Here’s an idea – just like the popular use of “what’s on your iPod” to share what music people are listening to, how about sharing what’s on your Kindle?

The Counter-Intuitive CEO

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Great CEOs are counter-intuitive. They don’t subscribe to herd mentality, rather they use their contrarian instincts to exploit opportunities, to create advantage, to build strong leadership teams, to expand market share, and to increase brand equity. A global recession is nothing more than an excuse for poor leaders to assign blame for weak performance elsewhere. The counter-intuitive CEO (Great CEOs) sees an economic downturn as an opportunity to strengthen their organizations and to grow the enterprise. As 2009 draws to a close I want you to invest 10 minutes in watching the video above as it provides a strong validation for what I’ve been espousing to you for quite sometime in posts like: “Recession Proof Your Business” or “Beware the CFO“ or “Young CEOs.” I wish you great success in 2009…   

CEO Resources

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Happy New Year! I just returned from my first extended blogging vacation since 2006, and after taking the last 10 days to recharge my batteries I can earnestly state that I’m glad to be back. In my first post of 2008 I thought I’d offer you a New’s Year’s gift by providing a list of some of my favorite links. You can bookmark this post, and by adding this page to your favorites you will have a single location that will serve as a valuable list of resources which should be of interest to any CEO or entrepreneur. I hope you find this helpful

Business Publications, News Papers & Periodicals 
BarronsBBC | Boston Globe | Business 2.0 | Business Week | CFO | CIOChief Executive| Economist | Entrepreneur | Fast Company Financial Times | Forbes Fortune | Harvard Business ReviewInc. Investor’s Business Daily | Kiplinger | London Times | MicroCap Review | Mergers & Acquisitions | MIT TechReview | New York Times | Newsday | Singapore Business Times | Small Business Review | Strategy+Business SuccessUSA Today | US News | Wall Street Journal | Wired |

Business Wires, Online News, Databases & Information Portals
ABC | AP Wire | BBC | Bloomberg | Business WireCBSCommercial Property News | CNBC | CNN | C-Net | C-SpanDrudge Report | Edgar OnlineFox | InterNIC €˜Whois’ | GlobeSt.com | Google NewsMSNBC| NAICS/SIC Codes | PBSPR Newswire | ReutersSEC Database | Smoking Gun | Topix | US Patent OfficeVentureWire   

Financial Markets
Amex | BolsaDJIAFTSE | HKEx | ISE | MoscowNasdaqNikkei | NYSE | TASE

Investment Banks, Private Equity Firms & VC’s
Bank of America | Blackstone | Bear Sterns | CitigroupCredit Suisse | Deutsche Bank | DLJ | Goldman Sachs | Lehman BrothersJP Morgan | Lazard | Merrill Lynch | Morgan Stanley | RBC | RBSUBS | Extensive Private Equity Database (free trial) | Top 100 VC Firms  

Legal & Accounting Firms
Top 100 Accounting Firms | 250 Top Law Firms |

Miscellaneous Links
1-800-Flowers | Airlines (World Wide) | Airline Phone #s | Airport Directory | Flight Arrivals and Departures | Flight Tracker | Amazon.com | Barnes & Noble | Concierge | DHL | Express Mail | FedEx | Maps & Directions | UPS | Weather Channel | Zip Code Finder
If you can think of any links that I’ve missed (I’m sure there are many), just let me know and I’ll update the list…

How To Become A Great CEO

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

What does it take to become a great CEO? Much more than it did even 5 years ago to be sure. The rapidly changing global landscape and the evolving complexity of business makes the job of CEO something that is only well suited for a rare few. For these reasons sustainable success at the C-suite level is an elusive thing in today’s business world. With the average tenure of a CEO being less than 5 years it is critical for executives to understand what it takes to beat the odds. In today’s blog post I’ll examine the characteristics that a CEO must posses in order to maintain his or her position and remain in control for as long as they choose…

The job of CEO is all about managing expectations. Put simply a CEO’s shelf life will be equal to their ability to align vision with execution. A CEO must be able to focus on deploying the necessary resources at the right time to achieve to desired results. By exhibiting strong leadership skills a good CEO will manage talent, performance, change, innovation, influence, rapport, and messaging to consistently drive an enterprise forward regardless of circumstances. If you want to insure longevity as a CEO work towards a mastery of the following characteristics: 

  1. Integrity: Always do the right thing regardless of sentiment and never compromise your core values. If you cannot build trust and engender confidence with your stakeholders you cannot succeed. No amount of talent can overcome illegal, immoral or otherwise ill-advised actions. A leader void of integrity will not survive over the long-haul.

  2. Excellent Decision Making Skills: As a CEO you will live or die by the quality of the decisions you make. When you’re the CEO good decisioning is expected, poor decisioning won’t be tolerated and great decisioning will set you apart from the masses.

  3. Ability to Focus: If you cannot focus you cannot perform at the level necessary to remain in the C-suite for very long. The ability to do nothing more than understand and lock-onto priorities will place you in the top 10% of all executives.

  4. Leveraging Experience: Inexperience, a lack of maturity, needing to be the center of attention, not recognizing limitations, a lack of judgment, an inferior knowledge base or any number of other common mistakes made by rookie CEOs can cause your house of cards to fall. If you don’t have the experience personally, hire it, contract it, but by all means acquire it. Great CEOs surround themselves with tier-one talent and the best advisors money can buy. They don’t make uniformed or ill-advised decisions in a vacuum.

  5. Command Presence: Great CEOs possess a strong presence and bearing. They are unflappable individuals that never let you see them sweat (unless of course it serves a purpose). Everything from how they carry themselves to how they speak and dress messages that they are in charge.

  6. Embracing Change: Great CEOs have a strong bias to action. They don’t rest upon past accomplishments and are always seeking to improve through change and innovation. In today’s fast paced and competitive environment those CEOs who don’t openly embrace change will often be shown the door prior to the expiration of their initial employment contract.

  7. Brand Champions: Great CEOs understand branding at every level. They seek to build not only a dominant corporate brand, but also a strong personal brand. CEOs that are not well branded on a personal basis or who let their corporate brand fall into decline will not survive.  

  8. Boundless Energy: Great CEOs have a boundless amount of energy. They are positive in their outlook and their attitude is contagious. A low energy CEO is not motivating, convincing or credible.

  9. Business Acumen: Great CEOs have a deep understanding of the business and a strong orientation toward profit. Great CEOs possess what often appears to be a sixth sense or an almost instinctive feel for what the company needs to do to make money and remain competitive.

  10. People Acumen: Great CEOs have a nose for talent…They understand how to recruit, develop and deploy talent focusing on applying the best talent to the best opportunities. They also know when it’s time to make changes and cut losses as needed. 

  11. Organizational Acumen: Great CEOs know how to engendering trust, when and how to share information and are expert listeners. They develop strong and positive corporate cultures driven to performance by aligned motivations. They can quickly diagnose whether the organization is performing at full potential, delivering on commitments and whether the company is changing and growing versus just operating.

  12. Curiosity: Great CEOs possess a powerful motivation to increase their knowledge base and to convert their learning into actionable initiatives. They question, challenge, confront and are never accepting of the status quo.

  13. Intellectual Capacity: Great CEOs are also great thinkers both at the strategic and tactical levels. They are quick on their feet and know how to get to the root of an issue faster than anyone else. I’ve never met a great CEO who wasn’t extremely discerning.

  14. Global Mindset: Regardless of the geographical boundaries of the current business model great CEOs think globally. Limited thinking results in limited results. Whether global thinking is applied to capital formation, supply-chain issues, business development, strategic partnering, distribution or any number of other areas those CEOs who don’t grasp the importance of thinking globally will not endure. Great CEOs are externally oriented, hungry for knowledge of the world and adept at connecting developments and spotting patterns. 

  15. Never Quit: Great CEOs refuse to lose…They have an insatiable appetite for accomplishment and results and while they may reengineer or change direction they will never lose sight of the end game.