5 Leadership Themes Every CEO Should Know


A leader’s best insurance policy against wasting time on the wrong things is having a clear plan to invest time productively. All of us remember the geologic time scales from high-school Science books showing the various strata of rock in the Earth’s crust. Leadership time — the time a leader is empowered to do the job — is layered like the Earth’s surface. But rather than individual layers being added on top of each other with the passage of time, all the layers are present at once. Managing leadership time successfully requires leaders to make progress on realizing the multiple levels of their agendas simultaneously.

Weak leaders look at their tenure as a one-dimensional experience to be weathered until they reach the safe haven of retirement. Leaders who savor their roles enjoy the complexity of advancing on several fronts simultaneously, but they also have the focus to know that there are five key layers that demand constant, conscious attention:

1. What must I achieve?

While I am leader, what goals must the organization realize? How do I wish to leave it positioned? How do I break the negative molds that inhibit the organization’s future? As the former CEO of RCA Thornton Bradshaw once pointed out, the average CEO may have several years’ tenure but only six months to initiate dramatic change before being neutralized by subordinates who find the CEO’s changes painful.

Managing leadership time successfully requires leaders to make progress on realizing the multiple levels of their agendas simultaneously.

2. What is my economic context?

How do I structure the timetable, the sequence for goals to intercept or avoid the economic trend line? How can I meet the needs for short-term profit performance and still support the necessary investment in research and development for the future?

3. What is my succession plan?

Whom am I grooming or testing for succession? What are the milestones for measuring the progress of contenders? How do the key goals to be achieved mesh with the advancement of contenders?

4. What obstacles are foreseeable?

Which of the biggest nonproductive time-eaters, such as litigation or building a new headquarters, are most likely to intrude, and how do I minimize their interference with the agenda?

Weak leaders look at their tenure as a one-dimensional experience

5. Where is the trend line of managing headed?

Am I mindful of what is happening generally in the world of managing? Am I evolving a leadership approach that has, for example, more global awareness and is more effective in dealing with information workers, or will I leave the helm an anachronism and my organization dated and floundering?

In the periodic communications of all great organizations — IBM, Ford, the Red Cross, and others — you will see attention to these themes presented as proof that leadership has an abiding focus on getting the right things done. With the average tenure of today’s CEO about five years, down from the ten-year term of two decades ago, the multidimensional management of time has become a foremost leadership skill.

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Robert L. Dilenschneider is the founder and Chairman of The Dilenschneider Group, a global public relations and communications consulting firm head­quartered in New York City. He is the author of many books, including the best-selling Power and Influence.

  • http://about.me/kcren Kevin Crenshaw

    Yes! But even better:

    1. What must *we* achieve?
    2. What is *our* economic context?
    3. What is *our* succession plan?

    Great leaders think and say “We”, not “I.” – Peter Drucker

    “We” gets the team involved in thinking and developing and doing, which is, by definition, leadership. :)

  • Naico ITS

    Nelson Mandela said, “You must lead people from behind and put others in front when times are good, but lead from the front when times are bad”.

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