CEO Coaching: Caution Versus Courage

It’s always struck me how some “leaders” run around with a sledgehammer while others use jewelers’ tools. Remember this joker? He portrayed himself as courageous when, in fact, he was merely a narcissistic fraud. 

The sledgehammer crowd (with nicknames like “Chainsaw”) is usually on the side of tearing things down. Slashing costs requires tough-minded leaders and is often necessary, but as the saying goes, you can’t cut your way to greatness. Executioners employ brute force, and builders require an entirely different skill set — but courage is required of both.

A new private equity investor encouraged a talented CEO whom I coach to be more “entrepreneurial.” We had a good discussion on what that meant.

I suspected they were considering three factors: 

1.  Innovation

2.   Risk (Perhaps more courage)

3.   Speed

Although I believe that some people have innate tendencies to be entrepreneurs and some are better suited to be train conductors, I also believe that you can dial up entrepreneurial behavior in yourself and your team by thinking about the levers you can pull (e.g., the three that I mentioned) and what practices and systems you can establish to change them — institutionalize courage, if you will.

Leaders are often told to be more strategic and entrepreneurial, but unless you define what that means, it’s worthless advice. If you think about it, there are concrete ways to increase innovation (organizational design, reward systems, data capture, hiring practices, etc.) and dial up risk tolerance (allowing or rewarding failure, increasing autonomy, changing your budgeting process, etc.) and speed (streamlining approval processes, launching viable versus perfect products, optimizing supply chains, etc.).

Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea, who I worked with for many years frequently said, “You’ll never get rich running scared!” As the clock speed of business and disruption both continue to ramp up, is it time for you to institutionalize more courage?

If you are a CEO or senior leader in mid-market company and would like to have a free 20-minute consultation (e.g. to discuss a current challenge), click here to set up a time.

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