Linda Henman has helped a lot of CEOs over the past 30 years. But in 2006 when she was asked to help another one, this time at a $1.5 billion publicly traded company in St. Louis, she felt like something was missing in her tutelage.
“I remember wishing I had a book I could hand him that explained all about being a CEO that no one had taught him,” says Henman, an executive coach and author. “What does a brand new CEO have to know that no one has taught that person in any other job?”
Henman took the most important of those missing pieces and put them into “Landing in the Executive Chair: How to Excel in the Hot Seat.”
What is the biggest thing a CEO needs to know?
When you’re the CEO, the people who report to you have to be excellent. They can’t be above average or pretty good. They have to be excellent and exceptional. If they’re not, nothing else is going to work.
What is your advice on making sure you have excellent people?
Look at the aptitude of the person. The ways I encourage people to evaluate aptitude are first of all, ask whether or not this person can make unfamiliar decisions. Then ask yourself if this person can learn quickly. And third, ask yourself does this person understand how to make sense of the numbers?
What has surprised you most in working with CEOs?
So many people are running companies who lack strong analytical ability. So often it doesn’t show up until the person gets promoted to the C-suite. But then it does show up and people don’t understand what to do with it. They just understand the person is not executing. They don’t understand why.
How do you get through that?
You just cannot expect every day to be a good day. That’s unrealistic. When you have thousands of people counting on you and there are so many locations and so many products and services that you offer, something is going to go wrong somewhere every day. You just have to learn to put that in perspective and roll with the punches. You have to realize you have to have good people to handle those kinds of things so you can keep constantly focused on the big picture.
How helpful is your book for CEOs who aren’t new to the job?
Two of the most important chapters for experienced CEOs will be the strategy chapter and the succession planning chapter. I tell people I help leaders tie talent and strategy together. That’s the key. If you get those two things right, the rest of it seems to take care of itself. But the experienced CEO often will not realize the role he or she should play in planning succession and tying that to what you want to do for the long range or the next three to five years. The two of them have to go together, talent and strategy.
Is it because they can’t look past today?
That’s a big part of it. The other part of it is that they are so busy running the business, they forget one of their primary responsibilities is to build the bench. So they just don’t take the time to do it. I’ve never heard a direct report to anybody say, ‘I get more feedback than I want.’ Those words have never been spoken. But continuously I hear, ‘I wish my boss would let me know what he or she is thinking. I just don’t know.’
How to reach: Henman Performance Group, (636) 537-3774 or www.henmanperformancegroup.com