Enough with the Top CEO Tips

List of CEO top tips

No More Top Tips

Over the last few months, I have read a lot of blog posts and articles with titles such as “6 CEO Leadership Tips To Use Today”. Some of the tips in these lists are quite obvious; such as ”Keep your emails short and sweet”. Others seem more profound – but are vague – such as “listen to your customers”.

Don’t get me wrong; you could not fault any of the advice given. There are some good ideas in these lists but it all seems somewhat superficial. It is like skipping dinner and snacking. You don’t get full but at the end of the evening you might feel a bit sick.

The problem is that these lists give the impression that running a business is simple and if you just use the 6 tips, you will be guaranteed of success. However, in my experience, running a business is hard work. Just as painting by numbers does not make you an artist, following a list of tips does not make you a business leader.

Here are some ideas about what I think is really important – based on running real companies.

Know your business

Business Model
It all starts with knowing your business – and in particular your business model. This is how the business turns demand from customers into a cash-flow and margin. Different products will generate different margin streams at different levels of investment. You have to be completely clear how that works otherwise, you can jeopardise the entire operation by running out of cash.
Once the business model is clear, you need to understand your customers – what are their requirements and how can you satisfy them better than your competitors? In most cases, customers are so involved with their own problems that they do not have clear ideas of what they want. It is worth taking time to talk to them about their issues and watch what they are doing with your product. In particular, if you can figure out what they were doing just before and after they used your product, you have an opportunity to expand your offer and make the product more attractive
The last part of knowing your business is your employees?. In most companies, they have many man years of experience and knowledge about the business. They may not, however, have the right tools or motivation. to use that knowledge. In addition, they may not be aligned with each other. You need to understand your employees if you are to get the best from them.

Set Clear Goals and Objectives

Knowing the business is the first step. With that knowledge, you and your management team can decide how you want to develop the business. This will allow you to set out clear goals and directions over the short and longer term. For example, in which customers or market segments do we want to succeed and what financial goals do we have for that?

Build Organisational Capability

Despite the amount of time that companies spend on it, setting realistic objectives and plans for the business is actually pretty straightforward. What many people forget is to include is anything about developing the organisation. For example, if the plan is to be successful selling products into the healthcare sector, you might need FDA approval and a sales organisation that can get access to clinics and hospitals. Or if you are selling lower value products to a wide range of customers, you will probably need to develop some skills in logistics.

Deliver Results

Finally, you need to execute. It is no good having a plan that just sits on the desk for the year. There has to be a regular review of the progress and this has to be done in a very structured fashion but he whole management team. I have seen too many operations where the business review was not carried out effectively. At the end of the year, targets are missed but nobody has any idea why. A regular review with corrective actions for the things off track would have prevented that.

So in summary:

  • Know your business (business model, customers and organisation)
  • Set clear goals and objectives
  • Build the right organisational capabilities
  • Deliver results

Unfortunately, having complained about the “paint by numbers” approach that I mentioned above, I seem to have created my own list. However, I have the feeling, that this list will make a more substantial meal!

In fairness, there is a place for “Top Hints” as long as you do not get confused and believe that this is all there is to being a business leader.

I am going to follow up on these topics in more detail in later posts. What do you think? I’d be interested in hearing your feedback.

2 thoughts on “Enough with the Top CEO Tips

  1. Call me a cynic, but… In some ways it is reasuring that there are ‘a lot of blog posts and articles with titles such as “6 CEO Leadership Tips To Use Today”’. It suggests that at least some CEOs are human enough to be sucked in by the same ‘one weird trick to increase your internet traffic’ that works on a significant proportion of the rest of society.

    Starting a headline with a number is a well documented way of increasing its click-through rate. The phenomenum has been the subject of various web commentry over the past while;-

    A common feature of the ‘X things about Y’ type of article is that each tip is on a different page. The reason for this is that every page is littered with third party adverts, and there are only so many adverts that will fit on a computer screen. By spreading their X things across multiple pages, the author is multiplying their advertising revenue six-fold and also increasing their search engine ranking.

    Personally I’m of the opinion that Sun Tzu’s Art Of War is the best management book ever written. However the amount of background reading required to come to that conclusion does rather concur with your point that there is no 12-step plan to guaranteed managerial success. At the risk of appearing populist & trendy, of which I am neither, Flash Boys by Michael Lewis won’t change your life but is worth a read if your day job is managing geeks.

    I am assuming that “The last part of knowing your business is your employees?” was a Freudian typo. There are several ways of interpreting that sentence, and most of them are dystopian in a Dilbert style. “They may not, however, have the right tools or motivation.” is bang on the money though, and it applies to Management as much as to other staff. A company can only thrive when all of its staff share common goals.

    • Hi Conrad
      Thanks for the comments – you are right that the question mark after Employees was a typo – just not a freudian one 😉 I absolutely agree with you that when I refer to employees, I am including all management including (especially?) the guy at the top