3 Leadership Mistakes That Can Make or Break a CEO

The Chief Executive Officer or CEO is the spearhead, the brains, and the driving force behind the entire operation – and typically make the most visible leadership mistakes in the company. It all begins and ends with the CEO. They not only embody their company’s values in front of stakeholders and employees but are also the primary figures in the company’s representation in front of the world.

No matter the corporation’s size or value, it’s safe to say that every CEO has much responsibility on their shoulders. And sometimes it takes a few mistakes before they get it right. 

However, they jump ahead, learning from others in their position, and avoid making their peer and counterpart CEOs’ mistakes in the past. 

Failure to Adapt to Changing Cultures and Needs

3 Leadership Mistakes That Can Make or Break a CEO
3 Leadership Mistakes That Can Make or Break a CEO

Adapting to changing cultures is one of the most critical characteristics that distinguish a successful leader from a failed CEO. A leader must inspire, build confidence, and adapt to its changes in the market and employee temperaments.

One such example is of the CEOs of Blackberry, who were victims of complacency and later accused of being shortsighted about the company’s vision. Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, the co-chief executive officers, successfully revolutionized the market with their innovation in 1999. The Blackberry increased business speed, and it soon boomed, appealing to a wide range of consumers.

Blackberry profited considerably in the early 2000s; however, the great downfall was right around the corner, and signs were there early on. Lazaridis and Balsillie became too comfortable with their success and failed to adjust to the consumers’ needs. 

During this period, Apple continued its research and production to compete in the market. Similarly, Google was releasing Android phone technology. 

Blackberry’s CEOs were unfazed by this new challenge, which was essentially the first nail in their proverbial career coffins. The touch screen machinery, high-end IOS technology, and in-built applications of an iPhone were more alluring to the consumers. The market’s needs changed from a flip and a small screen phone to a touch screen sensation. 

By the time Blackberry decided to produce a touch screen phone, Apple had already established a loyal consumer base. Both the CEOs resigned by 2012, and Blackberry died of its managerial incompetencies by 2016. 

Just take a look at Bob Leduc, President of Pratt and Whitney – a success story built on adapting and embracing change. Pratt and Whitney is an aerospace engineering and manufacturing company, with aircraft engines provided and delivered globally. In an exclusive interview, Leduc mentions how he believes that his job is to build the company culture. He is a leading figure in the manufacturing world to align organizational values and hire diverse cultures and fields to promote inclusivity and expand influence to other regions. 

Moreover, he decided to digitize some parts’ manufacturing and compilation, which reduced the labor lead times from 4 to 2 weeks. This automation decision is relevant in keeping up with the growing orders for more engines and machines today. Leduc also employed 300 more employees in the supply chain department; hence he compensated for the automation and reduction of workforce in assembly by hiring twice as many employees in a different department. 

Failure To Delegate 

One of the most important tasks of a leader is to boost their team’s morale and create a cohesive approachable environment that motivates employees to come to work every day. Many CEOs give in to the pressure and project their anger and frustration on their teams often doing work for them which does more harm than good. Delegating is the art of facilitating a goal to be achieved by others through a respectful and trusting relationship. When leaders add trust, respect and appreciation for their talent to get the job done, magic truly happens.

The CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, is the prime example of a leader who built a multi-billion dollar ride-sharing company and succeeded in an incredibly popular dimension worldwide. However, his behavior and the toxic culture perpetuated under his leadership have tarnished his legacy forever. It has been reported by many who worked under Kalanick that although he was brilliant and tech-savvy, the overall culture he propagated was very toxic and unproductive. 

Kalanick failed to create a cohesive environment within its company. In 2017 a former Uber employee accused Kalanick of favoring men over women. Women were not treated with the same respect as men and were eyed by male colleagues for choosing to wear clothes that revealed their arms or shoulders. Moreover, a video of Kalanick verbally abusing one of the Uber drivers was virally spread all over the internet a few years ago, to which he responded that he needed to ‘grow up’ and required ‘leadership help’. Travis Kalanick got voted out of his company due to his aggressive and competitive behavior in 2017. 

On the other hand, the CEO and President of Synchrony Financial, Margaret Keane, is regarded as one of the most influential and inclusive leaders. Synchrony Financial is a spin-off financial services company of General Electric.

In 2017, Keane was voted as one of the top leaders in the Fortune 500. Margaret is a well-liked leader in her company. Her popularity is mainly due to her employees’ treatment as highly qualified individuals, rather than her inferiors. In an interview, she mentions the importance of shaping the culture and establishing the values. She expressed her trouble creating a vision for the company after the spin-off and separation from General Electric was official. She mentions how she extrapolated valuable lessons and mission statements from GE and applied them to create ‘a bold visionary company.’

She also tried to create a modern organizational structure within the corporate system that maintained a check and balance on the organization’s functions. She expressed the significance of human resources within a company and how important it is to develop leadership, promote innovation, manage performance, hire qualified and driven individuals, etc. Margaret Keane is currently the CEO of Synchrony Financial. 

Failure to Provide a Clear Vision for the Future.

The invention of the digital camera and technological innovations rang the death knell for Polaroid.
The invention of the digital camera and technological innovations rang the death knell for Polaroid.

Without a clear mission and vision, a company cannot progress successfully. An unclear vision and mission are evident through the bankruptcy and resignation of CEO Gary Dicamillo of Polaroid in 2001. 

Much like Blackberry’s CEOs, Gary Dicamillo was reluctant to change and refused to expand to the digital market. They believed in hard instant films to provide for the majority of their revenue. The invention of the digital camera and technological innovations rang the death knell for Polaroid.

Due to his reluctance, he could not create a clear long-term vision for the company, what it stood for, and where it was going. Dicamillo’s slow approach to understand and implement a strategy that coincided with their original creation proved to be the reason for its downfall. He could have avoided Polaroid’s complete obsolescence if he had thought about the company’s future growth. 

In contrast, Hubert Joly of Best Buy had a completely different plan in executing the company’s vision. He saved the company from potential financial destruction by highlighting the image and creating meaning at work to thrive in business. Joly joined the company as CEO in 2012, after a $1.7 billion loss in revenues. During his tenure, he advanced the shares of Best Buy by 330 percent. 

The 330 percent share increase is an outcome of his management and treatment of employees and core teams that motivated them to work diligently and succeed. He asked managers of Best Buy all over the states to question their workers about their dreams and goals and align them with the company’s mission to succeed. 

Perhaps this is easier said than done. However, Joly was keen on implementing this strategy by providing positive reaffirmations and optimistic leadership.

The role of a CEO brings with it a great deal of responsibility. And, there is no one school to attend to become a great CEO. They can learn from the examples before them—a great CEO is someone who doesn’t make the same mistakes over and over again and expect different results.

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