Three Biggest Mistakes that CEOs Must Fix


Here are the top three mistakes that CEOs make – and how to fix them.

Mistake #1 – CEOs Read Speeches

Consider the last acceptance speech you heard.

The most memorable speakers of the evening are always those who share straight from the heart. What we don’t remember are the speeches that begin and end with a pre-written set of notes. These two types of speeches just feel different; one impacts us and the other doesn’t.

On the one hand, it makes sense to read a speech that someone else writes because we’re all tight on time. As leaders, we think, if it’s scripted, we can just plug and play. However, we don’t come across as effective or authentic if we don’t practice. Plus, it takes longer to prepare when you are dead-set on getting the wordsmithing right on the speech someone else wrote the speech for you.

The Fix: Whether reading from a teleprompter, notes sheet or memorizing the details, don’t get hung up on the specific words, sentence structure and punctuation. It may feel easier and feel safer, but it fails to connect, inspire or motivate. You need structure, not a script. We advocate using The Decker Grid System™.

Alternatively, adapt the outline your team meticulously crafted for you for the next big event. Change the words and flow to fit your style. Consider letting the slides lead you with two concepts per slide. Another alternative, include four words on your teleprompter to help you know where to go next. No matter what, be sure to put it into your own words to inspire.

Mistake #2 – CEOs Are Too Stiff

I used to work with a Fortune 100 company, and their building was 36-stories tall. The joke was, the higher up in the building you go, the more serious the executives are.

We think that to be taken seriously, we have to be serious. We get so stressed, focused on the numbers, busy, and then we wear it on our faces. We must work to buck this serious trend. In fact, this is the #1 area for CEOs to improve. Instead, we need more lightness in business. Think right now of the CEOs that come to mind who you like or would want to get to know. Chances are, there is a lightness about them.

Too many people lose all their natural and expressive energy when it counts most – when they are speaking to hundreds or thousands at once. They emphasize their content, thinking, “If I just say the right words, people will get it.” In reality, people pick up on the visual and verbal cues, as well.

The Fix: Find ways to pull out your natural self. For some, that means smiling and showing vulnerability rather than striving to show that over-polished cool with your board and with your teams. A great way to do this is by telling stories – and adding other SHARPs. That’s the person you are at a cocktail hour, a backyard barbecue or during a Q+A – and it’s usually a more authentic than the version that often appears on stage. Give yourself permission to loosen up and show energy! Raise the corners of your mouth. Add lightness whenever possible, whether it’s at a meeting, in the hallway or on stage.

Mistake #3 – CEOs Are Not Always Communicating Vision

The primary job of any leader is to continuously communicate vision, mission, goal, and purpose of the organization – whether you are leading a group of 10 or 10,000. This seems obvious, but as CEOs, we get insulated. We also get distracted. Much like the dog in the movie, Up, who jerks his head whenever he hears the word, “squirrel,” we get caught up with the minutia. It’s easy to forget that our role is to be a vision caster – not to deal with the details (that’s the role of your team).

Too many CEOs think the formal one page Vision Statement that every employee may have to memorize takes care of the whole vision thing. It doesn’t. The best CEOs live and breathe their vision. They ARE the vision.

I worked with a CEO of a rapidly growing energy company who used to regularly stroll through the halls of his company to be visible. I challenged him to raise the bar. Rather than just walking around, he could really communicate his vision of unity by shifting the experience. If he asked what they were doing, on what they were working – showing interest, showing engagement and showing that every team member’s task (whether big, small, high-level or low-level) had value to contribute to his vision, it would help them understand their part.

The Fix: At every level, you must consider their experience. Your job as the leader is to communicate how their role – whatever it is – fits into the bigger vision. All the time. Relentlessly. Transfer it to all levels of your organization. Inspire your team by connecting the dots about what impact they have, how they contribute to the vision. Challenge each of your direct reports to translate this vision for each of their teams.



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