CEOs And Boards Are Locked In A Spiral Of Doom, Says Leadership Expert

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Company boards are firing CEOs at record rates. Leadership expert, Brent Filson, says the real reasons are being overlooked. Those reasons have to do with the "spiral of doom".

American CEOs are dropping like flies. Company boards, armed with new federal rules and stock exchange requirements coming in the wake of the corporate scandals of the past few years, are getting rid of underperforming CEOs at record rates.

Last month marked the fourth consecutive increase in monthly CEO replacements and the first time in four years that more than 100 CEOs left their jobs. This trend is all the more notable because it's happening during an improving economy and stock market.

However, leadership expert, Brent Filson, says the real reasons for the CEO bloodbath are being overlooked.

"Analysts pin the bloodbath on the CEOs," says Filson, "but it's not just the CEOs who are failing. Boards are failing too. Working with thousands of leaders worldwide for more than twenty years, I've learned that there is a ‘spiral of doom' at work in the relationship between many corporate boards and their CEOs. Most boards are clueless as to what leadership skills are needed for CEOs to succeed. So they hire clueless CEOs. Clueless boards hiring clueless CEOs -- it's the classic spiral of doom."

Filson says that the reason boards and CEOs misunderstand leadership is that recently there has been a tectonic shift in leadership skills CEOs need to succeed.

"In the 80s and 90s, the autocratic CEO reigned supreme. Many companies were like slow-moving ocean liners with autocratic captains giving orders to mates and mates giving orders to the crew. But today the combination of globalization and the entrance of new, differently manageable generations of workers into the workforce is creating the need for new kinds of leadership. Today, CEO leadership is no longer like piloting an ocean liner but like white water canoeing. It's leadership that calls for flattened organizations that can change direction rapidly and accurately, decentralized decision-making, motivated employees, and inspiring relationships. The era of the autocratic leader is over. Yet most boards know no other way of leadership but autocracy. I often think they wouldn't know the new leadership if it hit them in their collective face."

Filson provides a three step process for boards and CEOs to stop the spiral of doom.

"First, boards must be aware of the crucial differences between autocratic leadership and the new leadership. Autocratic leaders can be spotted a mile away. They're the chiefs with the ‘my-way-or-the-highway' leadership philosophy. They're long on order-giving and short on listening. They're great at micro-managing and poor at motivation. They're great at caring for the company's results and poor at promoting the welfare of the people who must achieve those results.

"Second, boards must avoid hiring autocrats and hire instead CEOs who are skilled in the new leadership. The new leaders ask a lot of questions. They consult with people rather than command them. They have a passion not only for achieving results but for promoting the well-being of the people who must achieve the results. They listen well. They have the courage to allow others to fail. They challenge people to be better than they think they can be. They are continually enhancing the leadership skills of others. And they recognize that rewards and punishments are the lowest forms of leadership.    

"Selecting these leaders entails going to great pains in the interview process to have candidates talk about their leadership philosophy, ways they have manifested that philosophy, and ways they intend to manifest it as their CEO.

"And third, boards must continually monitor and evaluate the CEO on how he/she is carrying out such leadership. Such monitoring and evaluation should be as intensely scrutinized as the results of the company are scrutinized."

Brent Filson's article on the spiral of doom.

Brent Filson's article on CEOs and the new leadership:

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's latest books are "The Leadership Talk: The Greatest Leadership Tool" and "101 Ways to Give Great Leadership Talks." Filson first learned about leadership as a Marine Corps rifle platoon commander. For the past 20 years, as a civilian, he has helped thousands of leaders in major companies worldwide achieve sizable and continual increases in results. He has published many books and hundreds of articles on leadership, developed motivational leadership strategies and created and instituted leadership educational and training programs. He has lectured at Columbia University, M.I.T., Wake Forest, Villanova and many other universities. Recently, he has conducted more than 125 radio interviews dealing with the Leadership Talk.

"Brent Filson is one of the most talented communicators in the world. If you want to learn to motivate two, two hundred, or two thousand people, his lectures and seminars are a must!"- Joseph Mancuso, CEO, Center for Entrepreneurial Management


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