6 Pitfalls Savvy CEOs Avoid At All Costs, And You Should, Too

Being a CEO is tough, but it's even harder when you let these mistakes drag you down. Here are six pitfalls, from not delegating enough to answering too many questions, every successful CEO knows to avoid.

While there’s plenty of discussion about what leading CEOs do to make their companies so profitable, innovative, and successful, what about the things they’re not doing?

CEOs are susceptible to a number of pitfalls, from becoming paralyzed during a time of crisis to running themselves into the ground. But savvy CEOs know better.

Here are six things they don’t do:

1. Make Perfect Decisions

A key to success is taking action and not deferring decisions it until the perfect answer or complete consensus is achieved.

CEOs operate in an environment that often requires them to make decisions without all the information and facts they might want. “Paralysis by analysis”--the mentality that you can never have enough facts--is a serious shortcoming for CEOs. Trying to make a decision without risk or criticism will only hold your company back.

2. Wear Many Hats

Successful CEOs delegate. They take the time to groom capable employees into leadership roles for each and every company function.

Not only does this mitigate the odds of CEO burnout, it allows more efficient execution and better results.

In addition, delegating is a safety valve: If a CEO never returned to the office for whatever reason, who would know how to do those things that only the CEO does today? Aren’t we supposed to build companies that can survive and are not dependent on any one person?

Smart CEOs do not build their companies around an individual; they know they have to “delegate or die.”

3. Use PowerPoint

Unfortunately this application has become embedded in corporate America, and too many executives use extensive slide presentations as a crutch--a terrible waste for executive teams.

Anything that can be read ahead of time, before a meeting, should be. Allowing a presenter to read endless and detailed slides in meetings is not only a waste of precious time but an insult to everyone in the room. If you must use PowerPoint, limit presentations to five slides, each with no more than five bullet points.

Any resources being requested should be on slide No. 1 so people know what the point of the presentation is up front. Smart CEOs know that time is money and that face-to-face meetings should be spent brainstorming, in discussion, and taking advantage of collective intelligence.

4. Answer Questions

As an executive, if you allow employees to ask you questions every time they don’t know the answer you’ll end up spending a chunk of your day doing your employees’ work for them. If a CEO had to constantly provide all the answers, why would they need subordinates?

People love to get quick answers but it’s not the CEO’s job to give them out like candy. Instead, ask questions that help subordinates think strategically and produce the answers themselves.

Periodically a CEO should keep track for a day of her question/answer ratio: How many times you responded with questions divided by how many times you gave out answers. Great CEOs have a Q/A ratio of about 20:1.

Plus, having employees find the answers themselves allows them to grow, think more like a CEO, and become leaders themselves.

5. Attend (All) Meetings

You’d be shocked by how many meetings CEOs attend that turn out to be a waste of their time. While the majority of meetings do not need to be attended by the CEO, knowing which ones do is vital.

Of course people would like to have the CEO attend their meeting to lend importance to it, but successful leaders jealously protect their time and opt for 5- to 10-minute briefings over 60 minute meetings. It can be a growth experience to have a subordinate executive attend a meeting in your place and then brief you on what occurred.

6. Simply Communicate

Successful CEOs over-communicate.

Industry experts estimate that the average person must hear information between 7 and 11 times before it becomes ingrained in memory, yet executives regularly underestimate the power of repetition. Companies that do employee surveys often find that no matter how much time they spend on communication, employees always want more. Executives should not be afraid to over-communicate the same message multiple times; providing the same information via different channels increases the likelihood that employees will actually remember what you tell them.

--Jim Alampi has spent 30 years helping companies overcome barriers to business growth. Alampi is the founder of Alampi & Associates, a Detroit-based executive advisory firm whose clients include several Fortune 500 companies. Jim is the author of Great to Excellent; It's the Execution! and speaks regularly to CEO's, executive teams and Boards on the topics of business strategy and execution, human capital and executive leadership.

[Image: Flickr user Jes]

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