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Mon 30 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

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Good habits result from resisting temptation

In challenging economic times no one comes under more scrutiny than the CEO. Across the Middle East many businesses are now undergoing significant restructuring and mergers to consolidate assets and liabilities. Against this backdrop the CEO's role has become even more crucial to companies and the region's success.

Good habits result from resisting temptation

In challenging economic times no one comes under more scrutiny than the CEO. Across the Middle East many businesses are now undergoing significant restructuring and mergers to consolidate assets and liabilities. Against this backdrop the CEO's role has become even more crucial to companies and the region's success.

When you consider it was only 18 months ago that we were asking these very same leaders to grow their operations at alarming rates, today's business landscape throws up a whole set of new leadership challenges. Now we require our CEOs to get control, drive discipline into the organisation and find cash. Looking from the CEO's perspective as they are asked to find a silver bullet to solve their organisation's problems, what can they do to be the right type of leader to pull a company through change and out the other side as an improved, lean, mean, fighting machine to capitalise once the market turns around?

The great guru of strategy, Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and more recently How the Mighty Fall, extols the virtues of the disciplined, low-key CEO who has a greater chance of a successful turnaround over the brash, over-confident chief executive who tells the world how they will single-handedly change performance.

My personal preference is for CEOs to heed Pat Lencioni's research and advice in his easy-to-grasp fable of the Five Temptations of a CEO. At first glance these might seem obvious, but I would urge all CEOs to take a long look in the mirror and ensure they are not being tempted by these common management traits.

Temptation 1 - Choosing status over results: The irony is that most CEOs got to the position they are in today because they were fanatical about results, being able to confront the brutal facts and remain impartial to the consequences. Having driven their careers to the dizzy heights of the top job, they become protective of their status and ego, reluctant to make decisions that might impact that. This doesn't mean they are Machiavellian, they just stop using the brutal facts to make decisions. In the current times of mergers and acquisitions for consolidation rather than growth, results must drive everything.

Temptation 2 - Choosing popularity over accountability: Typically a CEO is less robust in his performance management of his fellow chief officers, seeing them more as peers and a support group, rather than treating them as key employees who must deliver on their commitments if the company is to produce predictable results. Effective performance management in the Middle East has always been a challenge, due in part to cultural differences and the pace of growth that has disguised poor performers.  It is critical now for CEOs to hold their senior team accountable for results.

Temptation 3 - Choosing certainty over clarity: In an ideal world we would be able to know all the information before making a decision and have 100 percent confidence that it will succeed.  But we are not running businesses in an ideal world and waiting to inform your team of decisions until you are certain results in delays, which leads to paralysis. Clarity on what needs to be done is the key to survival in the current market. You might not always get it right, but if you are not concerned about your status and only about results, you need to take action faster.

Temptation 4 - Choosing harmony over productive conflict: Avoiding conflict is a huge cultural issue for executive teams throughout the region.  Many executives believe it is better to create a harmonious atmosphere and to challenge staff, but not overstep the boundaries. It might be better for them, but definitely not for the business.  Without productive conflict decisions are often suboptimal.

Temptation 5 - Unwillingness to be vulnerable with peers: The potential of losing face or credibility is a huge concern for CEOs. This can prevent people from sharing their ideas as they don't feel safe challenging the boss.  You should actively encourage your senior managers to challenge your ideas as it is the greatest level of trust you can give.

It may not be the easiest of tasks, but for those who can resist the five temptations of a CEO, they will emerge a stronger, more disciplined leader, better equipped to captain their company through unsettled business conditions.

Hazel Jackson is the CEO of UAE-based corporate training firm, biz-ability. The opinions expressed are her own.

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