CEOs can’t afford to be busy fools and worry about short-term issues
14 Apr 2023
April marks the start of the new financial year, and in the supposed first quarter, accountants can take a breath after an incredibly hectic couple of months. But with the pace of change only quickening and budgets out of date by the time they have been written, it’s time for business leaders to not concern themselves overly with short-term progress. Not least because whatever intervention they make will take time to have a meaningful impact.
The reality is any decisions someone sitting in the c-suite makes today will have limited influence in the next six to 12 months. So they would do well not to be busy fools. What’s the point of continuously discussing and focusing on the quarter’s closing, or even thinking about the next quarter?
There is minimal ability to alter the course in such a small time frame. Therefore, at that level, one should always be looking one year ahead – although preferably three years in advance.
When I speak with clients, they understand this concept but, despite nodding with approval, they still struggle to let go of control. Despite all the lessons business leaders could have learned in the last three years, including the shift away from a command-and-control leadership style, some chief executives are still chomping at the bit to know every detail of what’s going on right now across the business.
For their own sake, and the organisation, they have to have confidence in those around them to avoid involvement in some of the discussions and decision-making. Granted, many CEOs love this minutiae leadership, but in 2023 it is counterproductive. Of course, there is also an egotistical element to wanting to know everything that’s going on, and thinking they are the only ones who can make the right decisions. But it’s like micromanagement in the extreme. Don’t get caught in the weeds.
Moreover, at a time when people are drowning in meetings, surely the time of the c-suite members could be better spent. They should be focused on delivering the future, not the present. Further, if these leaders cannot manage their schedule effectively, and are getting burnt out due to longer and longer hours, what message does that send to the rest of the organisation?
Work management platform Asana’s new Anatomy of Work Global Index, published in March, calculated that needless meetings sapped almost four hours a week for people in senior leadership roles. Worse, executives were 30% more likely to miss deadlines than the average worker because of too many video calls or meetings.
Again, the c-suite – especially CEOs – should be confident in a system that empowers handsomely paid senior managers, vice principals, and so on, to make certain calls. If they always ask for updates and want to get closer to something that is, quite frankly, too close to get to, those decisions are more challenging. If meddling leaders slow progress, it damages morale, too.
Organisations trying to make a success of a hybrid working model need autonomy and trust more than ever. Otherwise, it’s the worst of both in-person and remote worlds. However, it’s making it harder for leaders who long for a return to how things were pre-pandemic. Because they aren’t gathering the bits and pieces of information, in corridor conversations, for instance, they are struggling. Perhaps this comes from anxiety about being irrelevant or “not dropping the ball”.
A CEO I work with initially wanted to step back and have quarterly reviews, but he has now changed his mind and demanded them monthly. This approach is going in the wrong direction. A mindset change is required, and urgently.
A CEO I work with initially wanted to focus his attention on 1–5-year horizon but he has now changed his mind and is demanding detail for the next few months. This approach is going in the wrong direction. A mindset change is required, and urgently.
Myopic leaders who are set in their ways and micromanaging are stifling their organisation’s growth, and their ego is damaging it in other ways. For example, while most members of the c-suite acknowledge that cybersecurity is a rising priority, often those at the top of the business – who are the big-game targets – have sloppy cyber hygiene. They would do well to engage in that area more than being distracted by reacting to short-term issues.
As difficult as it may be to learn new skills and break old habits, it is business-critical for leaders to look further ahead, and focus their attentions on the horizon, to best shape the future. It takes time to turn a ship around, but by worrying about near-distance obstacles that cannot be avoided, they will unwittingly chart a path to failure.