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Navigating Underperforming as a CEO



Greetings, fellow leaders and aspiring CEOs! As a specialized CEO coach, I find performance issues to be a regular occurrence; whether my own or within my client’s and their businesses. And though these issues are as varied as the many solutions we use to remedy them, I've identified three powerful principles that shed light on why CEOs often find themselves underperforming.


1. Unconscious Biases: The Silent Saboteurs


One of the greatest challenges facing CEOs is the existence of unconscious biases. These biases, deeply ingrained in our subconscious, shape our perceptions and decision-making processes without us even realizing it. Whether it's affinity bias, where leaders prefer those most like themselves, or confirmation bias, where preconceived notions cloud objective judgment, these silent saboteurs can significantly hinder optimal decision-making.

To address this, CEOs must acknowledge the existence of biases as the first step towards overcoming them. Implementing regular self-reflection exercises, seeking diverse perspectives, and fostering a culture of openness within the leadership team are crucial strategies in dismantling the barriers that unconscious biases erect.


These biases remind me of interactions with myself or others when we make a mistake on the road. For example: if someone cuts me off to get to their destination, I find that I am so much less bothered when that person waves an apology back to me. Why? Because this person clearly knows they could have or should have done differently, and they’re owning up to it! This same principle applies to myself and my clients –awareness of our missteps or lack of foresight (and the ability to admit them), goes a long way to fixing any issue.


2. Leadership Echo Chambers: The Pitfall of Homogeneity


CEOs often find themselves surrounded by like-minded individuals who share similar backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. While cohesion within a team is important, the echo chamber effect can lead to stagnation and missed opportunities. Homogeneous leadership teams may struggle to adapt to a rapidly changing business landscape or connect with a diverse customer base, despite the possibility for great conflict within heterogenous teams.


To combat this, CEOs must actively cultivate diversity, embracing different viewpoints, backgrounds, communication styles and skill sets. This not only enriches decision-making processes but also fosters innovation and adaptability. Creating an inclusive environment where all voices are not only heard but valued is much easier said than done. But, like most important things, practice and support from leadership can help.


3. Fear of Failure: The Paralysis of Perfection


CEOs, driven by a desire for success and a fear of failure, often fall into the trap of perfectionism. The pressure to make flawless decisions can lead to indecision, stalling progress, and hindering innovation. The fear of failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, preventing CEOs from taking calculated risks that could lead to transformative breakthroughs. Some will even find themselves making decisions they have no interest or business in making, all to avoid that fear. It’s almost like they would rather run into a tree at full speed than risk taking the treacherous road before them!


To break free from this cycle, CEOs must redefine their relationship with failure. Embracing a growth mindset allows leaders to view challenges as opportunities for learning and improvement. Encouraging experimentation, celebrating both successes and setbacks, and fostering a culture that values resilience over perfection can empower CEOs to navigate uncertainties with confidence.


My daughter is a great example of redefining her relationship with failure. From a young age I was very hard on her, as most parents are with their eldest child. She found a love and talent for basketball at around 8 years old. A few years into developing this skillset, she asked me to do something unorthodox; she wanted me to form an “L” on my forehead and pretend to call her a loser whenever she started getting out of sync with her game.


Now, I’m not saying this is the most productive way to support your child, but this is how our relationship played out, at the time. I did as asked and almost every time she would kick into gear, steal the ball or make a much needed shot. Instead of fearing her funks, my daughter experimented, cultivated a productive way for her to emerge from them and perform at her best, and then asked for help implementing that plan.


In conclusion, unlocking the full potential of CEOs requires a deliberate effort to understand and address the impact of subconscious bias. By acknowledging or asking for help identifying unconscious biases, embracing diversity, and redefining the relationship with failure, CEOs can create a path to sustained success and impactful leadership.


Remember, the journey towards peak performance starts from within. No one is too young or too old to admit their failings or to overcome their fears. As a CEO coach, my mission is to guide you through this transformative process, helping you unleash your leadership potential and navigate the complex terrain of the business world. Here's to breaking barriers and achieving greatness together!


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