It’s difficult to watch some CEOs manage, because they do things that are impossible to explain. But it’s just as painful to see them not do things that obviously need doing.
Are they trying to look stupid on purpose? Probably not, but that doesn’t make the situation any better.
When CEOs don’t do something that obviously needs doing, it may look like purposeful stupidity, but quite often it’s just avoidance of an uncomfortable employee situation.
Often CEOs can’t bring themselves to take action when a manager isn’t performing. Other employees see the non-performance, and wonder whether the CEO doesn’t notice or doesn’t care about failures to meet performance goals. (Some employees may even joke privately that the non-performing manager may have compromising photographs of the CEO.)
Dealing with unpleasantness
Facing uncomfortable situations and dealing with them is a central part of your job as the CEO.
In most cases, the CEO does notice and does care, but simply can’t give himself or herself permission to have a frank discussion or acknowledge that a change must be made.
In one situation, a corporate division was located 100 miles away from headquarters. It made perfect sense to relocate the division, consolidating it into the headquarters operation. But the corporate CEO refused to do it, because he had told the divisional General Manager that he would try his best to keep the remote operation in place.
The divisional General Manager had failed to perform, and the division’s results were routinely disappointing. The division absorbed a good deal of the corporate CEO’s time and energy, doubly so because of the extra effort required for him to be on site.
Despite all the difficulties, the corporate CEO continued to operate the division at the remote location, when he should have terminated the divisional General Manager and relocated the entire operation.
The corporate CEO was intelligent, and recognized all the benefits of consolidating the two operations. But he didn’t give himself permission to act because he felt uncomfortable delivering the bad news to the divisional manager.
Several years later, he finally fired the divisional manager and relocated the division — after far too many lost opportunities and considerable lost profit.
For that entire period, other senior managers had been discouraged and corporate results had been compromised, because of the CEO’s misplaced sense of obligation to the non-performing manager.
Give yourself permission to act
Uncomfortable situations will remain uncomfortable — or worse — unless you give yourself permission to take action.
It’s difficult enough to make the right decision in complicated situations, but it’s tragic to avoid a decision that you know is right, just because it’s uncomfortable.
It may look to others like purposeful stupidity, but it’s worse. It’s an abdication of your duties as the CEO.
If you want the job, dealing with uncomfortable situations comes with the territory.