How To Act Like a Great CEO

Last week we discovered a pool of water sitting on our basement carpet. From the ceiling above, broken drywall fell in clumps.

A complete mystery lurked behind that drywall. I thought the water was seepage from rainwater through the foundation. My wife thought it was coming from a leaking pipe. Others thought it was due to a temporary rise in the water table. We didn’t know for sure what it was, but we hoped it would go away and that would be that.

And then, a friend who works in the construction industry stopped by to take a look.

“Don’t wait,” he said. “Act now or you might pay multiple times over if you don’t.”

If there’s anyone as action-oriented about business as my construction friend is about my basement, it’s Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. You likely saw the news that Amazon, in its largest ever acquisition, has just paid a premium to buy Whole Foods, making a massive push into the grocery space.

I imagine that when Bezos and his team see cracks in their business model or the markets in which they operate, they don’t think, Well, hopefully that won’t be a problem. Let’s wait and see what happens. My guess is it’s more like, Don’t wait. Act now or you might pay multiple times over if you don’t.

This is evident in Bezos’ 2016 Letter to Shareholders, which is a must-read for business leaders. In it, he declares that, despite being a 20-year old organization, the company is still at Day 1. Staying at Day 1 instead of moving to Day 2 (“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death.”) requires high-velocity decision making, he says.

“Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had,” he explains. “If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow.”

Talent consulting firm ghSmart affirms this Amazonian approach to business. In a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, they describe their research analyzing 2,000-plus CEO reviews over ten years, from which they identified the four characteristics that set the best CEOs apart. The first? Deciding with speed and conviction. As they put it, “Good CEOs realize that a wrong decision may be better than no decision at all.”

Seizing the Opportunity to Act Like a CEO

So, is this a lesson for CEOs and aspiring CEOs only? Not hardly. Sure, some non-CEOs may not have the power to make a fast decision. But they do have other ways of accelerating the decision-making process.

My kids don’t have the authority in our house to decide whether we remediate the water in our basement. They might not even have the visibility into the factors driving this decision. They should, however, have the ability to see the problem and quickly escalate the issue.

And there are situations where non-CEOs do have decision-making ability. The temptation for many non-CEOs is to think like a doer—someone who manages processes, subject matter or tasks. But this limits their impact and influence, and it also limits their engagement. Research by the Dale Carnegie organization indicates that people are more committed and productive when they associate their work with organizational outcomes. In other words, when you act like a CEO, you’re more excited about your work.

We took my friend’s advice and hired someone to pull up and dry our carpet, open up our ceiling, and assess the situation. We did have a leaking pipe. It will cost us money to pay for this. But the cost of waiting and watching – mold and an ongoing leak – would have cost much more.

What decisions have you had to make recently or will you have to make soon? Will you move slowly and wait until everything lines up just perfectly—and potentially pay multiple times over because of it?

Or will you seize the opportunity to act like a great CEO and just go for it?



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