Who Has Your Back?

quarterback-sack-1579978_1920“Every CEO has an open flank.”

—Ram Charan

No one is great at everything. CEOs who think they must know everything (or think they do know everything!) are on a fast track to disappointment and failure.

Most CEOs know this and plug the hole by gaining knowledge or hiring to fill in for their weakness—if they know what it is. That takes care of the “known unknowns” but leaves the “unknown unknowns” as potential problems, sometimes fatal.

I have a client who felt uncomfortable with his financial knowledge when he first became CEO of an international company. So he hired a financial coach to get him up to speed so that he was comfortable answering questions from his board and talking with the financial community. He now can hold his own with most CFOs I know.

Years ago, I also had a client who was a successful real estate developer and investor. He believed he was an expert on the art of the deal (he was) but also thought he should know the best way to fill a pothole (he shouldn’t).

Different companies and industries require different knowledge, and size further complicates this. The knowledge required of the CEO of a 10-person engineering firm may be extremely technical, and he or she may not need a broad set of skills. But when that company gets to 1,000 people, the CEO’s required skill set will be considerably different.

Smaller companies often believe that someone must come from their industry to succeed. My experience is that they’re usually wrong and that this belief limits their growth. Larger organizations usually understand that a broad skill set — heavily weighted toward people skills — will most often trump deep technical skills.

There are skills and deficiencies that you can hire around, and there are some that will bite you if you refuse to grow. A CEO who doesn’t understand strategy or financial statements or doesn’t know how to build an aligned team won’t succeed over the long run or in multiple environments.

Just like every other problem, asking for help or admitting the weakness is the required first step.

You have an open flank, but can you see it?

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