Think Like A CEO – For CEOs Only

Think like a CEO? Do you?

Big Red Car here. Getting back to business in the aftermath of all things Trump. Nice break.

So, The Boss is talking to one of his best CEOs and the Big Red Car is eavesdropping. They’re eating breakfast, the All American Breakfast, at Texas French Bread on 29th Street close to the University and right next to Breed Hardware.

The CEO says, “For the first time, I think I’m starting to think like a CEO.”

The Boss, wanting to concentrate on his scrambled eggs, says, “Do tell. What exactly does that mean?”

Scrambled eggs bacon

There was bacon involved and it was crisp and hot. Thick cut. Maple cured. The scrambled eggs could have been a bit softer but The Boss forgot to suggest that to the waiter.

Think like a CEO

Being a CEO is a very tough job. It should be; it is also one of the best jobs you can ever have. Really good jobs are always tough.

It is a job which will find and expand any anxieties you might have. That is the nature of the job. We talked about that.

Entrepreneurial Anxiety – When Panic Attacks

This previous blog post lays out how to combat the natural anxiety. It is a mechanical, stepping stone solution and it works every time. Better than aspirin. Don’t be so anxious that you don’t re-read it.

“I’ve learned to plan,” said the CEO. “Everything isn’t happening with my hair on fire. I can plan stuff before I have to do it. I’m not doing everything by the seat of my pants.”

“Where did that come from?” asked The Boss.

The CEO laughed and then smiled.

“I did what you told me,” the CEO said. “I began to keep a journal. I began to spend some time brainstorming. I got stuff done on time which allowed me to get other stuff done on time. I began to smoke problems out by talking to my people before they erupted into flame. I stopped undertaking everyone’s problems. I started telling them, ‘not my circus, not my monkeys.’ I am embracing process. I am doing things the same the third, fourth, fifth times. I have stopped inventing stuff. I am constantly managing by wandering around.”

Managing by wandering around is one of the most important concepts a CEO can master. Just go talk to people, listen to what they have to say, ask them, “Do you know what is required of you? What can I do to make it more certain that you will produce what we need? How can I help you?”

The Boss looked at the CEO. He was weighing whether to tell him the secret.

The secret

The secret is that there is no real secret. Every CEO will find an instant in time when they settle into their job when the anxiety of it all is diminished and they are able to use that energy to get stuff done.

A big part of it is planning. Planning is hard work. Planning is, likely, the most overlooked element of CEO performance.

“He’s a great planner,” said NO board member ever when describing a CEO. Ever. Yet, it is one of the critical elements in the long term success of a CEO.

A lot of it is doing well what you know needs to be done. The Boss’s pet peeve this month is performance appraisal. If there is one thing that startups do poorly it is goal setting and performance appraisal. Startup CEOs think that performance appraisal is all about compensation. It is not.

What else?

So, The Boss, now focused on his home fries, asked, “What else?”

“I can do this job,” said the CEO. “I. Can. Do. This. Job.”

“Did you ever doubt it?” asked The Boss.

“Yes,” said the CEO, “yes, I wasn’t sure I could do it. Now, I know I can do it.”

“What did I tell you at the beginning?” asked The Boss.

“You told me that anybody can be a good CEO. Some good CEOs can become great CEOs. All anyone has to do is THE WORK.”

“That’s exactly right, I’ll pay for breakfast.”

While there may be no free lunch, apparently, there is a free breakfast from time to time.

Bottom line it, Big Red Car

And, there it is, dear readers.

If a CEO is not scared off by the anxiety — which is absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt coming, BIG TIME — she can learn this job. You will get better at it. The Big Red Car promises you that you will get better at it. Some days, it will also crush your DNA if you let it. A moment will come when you hair is not on fire and when you are just executing and things are falling into place in accordance with your plan.

Stay sharp. Stay focused. Stay hopeful.

If you do all of that, one day The Boss will buy you scrambled eggs, bacon, home fries at Texas French Bread and you will say, “I can do this.”

But, hey what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Think like a CEO? Hell, yes!cropped-LTFD-illust_300.png

9 thoughts on “Think Like A CEO – For CEOs Only

  1. Good. A keeper. Thanks.

    Happier Subordinates

    The part

    “Do you know what is required of you? What can I do to make it more certain that you will produce what we need? How can I help you?”

    in just a few words gives a major faction of what the subordinate employees commonly don’t have but very much want and need to have.

    The Mushroom Technique

    But there is also the mushroom technique of management,

    Keep the subordinates in the dark and feed them BS.

    This technique also is part of middle management goal subordination, that is, helping themselves while hurting the organization.

    Some Traditional Issues

    Such walking around would seem to raise other issues:

    (1) Respect.

    Commonly higher level management wants to throttle any direct communications with subordinates two or more levels lower in the organization chart with the throttling stronger at more levels.

    The throttled communications can enhance fear of the manager and respect of the manager and avoid familiarity that might breed contempt.

    (2) Chain of Command.

    Any communications directly between two people not close in the organization chart can be regarded as lack of respect for the chain of command.

    Some people get really upset about that.

    A Old Idea

    From some Avis rental car experience, there is the now old

    Robert Townsend, Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits.

    where it appears that the author is saying, do talk to the worker bees but, when find something badly wrong, fix it through the chain of command.

    For Me

    In my startup, at least while it is small and before I learn better, I’d talk to the worker bees in an instant, e.g., maybe stay late and help them pull cables in the server farm, order pizza for everyone, and have the conversations.

    Understanding the Chain of Command

    But I have to suspect that the US military and most large organizations want very much to respect the chain of command.

    So, how do organizations with high respect for the chain of command handle one on one communications between two people wildly separated in the organization?

    • All the issues you allude to are very real and I have seen the BS unfold again and again. They seem to occur because most corporate cultures have a certain ambivalence towards truth and incentivize individuals to optimize for the self vs. the customer or the company.

      CEOs and leaders need to be more aware and consciously cultivate a culture of truth.
      I wrote more here.

      • Your article at your URL is awash in social science hypotheses, some of which, with quite a lot of work, should be testable.

        Maybe some B-school profs, say, in organizational behavior, would want to do some of the tests.

        E.g., my wife’s Ph.D. dissertation was on the hypothesis that people higher in organizations are more cautious in their decision making.

        • That may be true but my intention was not to create any theses for validation. It is just one person’s perspective based on his experiences with people in different companies and cultures. I am no expert in social sciences or for that matter anything.

          But I do believe that the essence of human nature has not changed since ancient times. Being more aware of how the mind works can help people be more empathetic, which in turn makes them more open to be vulnerable, that in turn makes possible the pursuit of truth without beung tainted by the ego.

          • .
            You are quite right that much of human nature has remained unchanged. What has changed is how we appeal to and harness those tendencies.

            At the core, a person wants to be appreciated, valued, validated, and loved. These notions are so old fashioned as to be laughable.

            There is no necessity to adopt some faddish, pop, faux management technique, if you can relate on an honest and real basis. Many cannot. They don’t have the common touch.

            I would even suggest that such a leadership style has become so rare, that its effectiveness is heightened by its rarity.


  2. Love this one. I have a client who has lots of fires. I often don’t jump when she has a fire, and say, “Activity is not progress,” then, “I’ll make sure this gets put into the plan.”

    Love your quote “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” Perfect. I’m totally stealing that.

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