02/02/2011

By Brian Chernett, Founder, The Academy for Chief Executives

U.S. President Harry S. Truman kept a sign that read ‘The buck stops here’ in the Oval Office. It was there as a reminder, if one was needed, that the President has to make the difficult decisions and to accept the ultimate responsibility for them.

As CEO, the buck stops with you, too. With the trappings of the role comes the responsibility to take the critical decisions, often under pressure and in novel circumstances. You have no choice in this but you do have a choice in how you view this responsibility. You can see it as an imposition or a privilege of rank.

Leaders who view this responsibility as an imposition and wish that it would go away often choose to avoid or deny it. They defer decisions as late as possible, hoping they will go away or decide to pass the buck elsewhere - often downwards. The result is often that the problem they avoided returns bigger and more difficult later. In Confronting the ‘Brutal Facts’, I explore facing up to ‘brutal facts’.

Far better if you can see it as a privilege of rank and a culmination of the hard work taken to get where you are. Making difficult decisions is part of the job you always wanted. Many decisions will require you to judge between arguments made by members of your team coming from two (or more) strongly held positions. To decide requires you to make a judgement with which some of your team will disagree. It is in the nature of decision making that this must happen. Deferring or denying the need will result in all parties feeling unheard and may worsen the reaction.

Even if you are uncomfortable with exercising your judgement in this way, you still have choices. You may just lack the skills and experience or the self confidence to make them. If that is the case, consider getting help and support on the process of taking difficult decisions, or on your growth and development plan and to identify your training needs and fill them.

• Find a mentor who has been where you now are and has successfully developed into a leader. A mentor can help you to grow into the role. They will support you as you make decisions, monitor the outcomes, give you feedback and help you to learn as you go.

• Build a team around you to support you with information and advice. Recruit well to support you and fill 'holes' in your experience and skillset.

• Cultivate and use your external advisers to provide distance and objectivity.

• Consider if you need a chairman and/or non executive Directors to support you.

Not everyone is made or suited to be a CEO. Your preference may be to handle technical issues, to meet with clients, to manage facilities — exercising the skill that got you to this position. You won’t be the first person to develop a business and decide not to run it. Recognising that fact and doing something about it may be the best decision you make.

You could find a CEO from within or by external recruitment and occupy a role that suits your skills best — continuing as a major shareholder or sole owner. Such an approach will require clear guidelines on limits of authority — both those of the CEO and your own — but it can work well. You might, instead, consider an exit at this point and allow the company freedom to move forward beyond you, returning to areas of work that suit your preferences.

The least productive approach will be to do nothing about the problem. Whether you choose to enhance your skills and gain new experience or to withdraw from the front line position of CEO to be more effective elsewhere, something needs to happen for the company to thrive and develop. Good decisions, taken in a timely fashion, are the lifeblood of a growing business.


Brian Chernett is the founder of The Academy for Chief Executives and Chairman of Academy Group ACE2. Having stepped down as Chief Executive of the Academy, Brian is now developing his own coaching and mentoring business — Wisdom Forums - for senior executives and building a new charity, The Ella Foundation, to coach and mentor Chief Executives in Charities and not for profit business.

Watch a video of Brian Chernett, Founder of The Academy For Chief Executives, explaining how The Academy For Chief Executives inspires business leaders.

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