Common CEO Mistakes – Planning

As promised, the second in this series of four blog posts based on the panel discussion that I recently participated in for the New Jersey Technology Council’s CEO Forum with the topic “Sharing Mistakes Made by Fellow CEOs” will focus on mistakes around planning. The assembled group of Tech Council CEOs, mostly from the realm of software, electronics and equipment, and related service industries, were eager to share many of the mistakes that they’ve made in their careers as CEOs. The spirited discussion was done with the goal of reassuring each other that we’ve all made mistakes along the way, and by talking about them, we could learn, share experiences and give advice to our peers that might find themselves in the same boat.

Since it is impossible to go into detail in one short blog post about everything that was discussed at the forum, I thought I’d break it down into four categories and do a separate post on each. Today’s blog post is on the subject of planning.

Every CEO present mentioned the necessity of having a business plan. Moreover, the need to have that plan in writing was almost universally acknowledged. Which brings me to point number 1:

  1. You’re NOT “too busy running the company to plan.” The CEO, who is typically an owner or who’s compensation often hinges on company growth and profitability, is in a unique position to assess the business landscape and to set the company’s goals and priorities. If the CEO is too busy “making the donuts” to have that longer-range view, the company risks “mission drift” – that dangerous zone where urgent tasks consume so much time that truly important things suffer. This is directly related to…
  2. Make sure everyone knows “the object of the game.” Remember when you opened a brand-new board game for the very first time? You turned over the top of the box to reveal the game rules. What was the very first thing printed? Yes, it is the object of the game. Make sure you understand and communicate to your people EXACTLY what “winning” means in your business. It is difficult to achieve success without a clear vision for what success looks and feels like. And knowing that, it’s easier to develop and execute effective strategies and tactics to achieve success.
  3. Revisit your plan regularly. As Ferris Bueller famously said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Making sure you take the time to look around, to assess the situation, and to be ready to make course corrections or minor changes to your plan when the situation dictates needs to be a part of your regular routine.
  4. Don’t discount the value of peer advice. Chances are, you are NOT the smartest person in the world. And chances are, others in positions similar to yours have encountered problems and opportunities comparable to what you may be facing. Having trusted friends or advisors among whom you can bounce ideas, brainstorm and sometimes, simply commiserate is not only mentally therapeutic, it can lead to approaching things from an angle you may not have considered. And finally…
  5. Face your fears. CEOs are often faced with decisions that cause them to question themselves and lose sleep. This goes with the territory. You’ve probably heard the old saw that the Chinese word for “crisis” is made up of the characters that represent BOTH danger AND opportunity. Knowing that you will inevitably be in a crisis position at some point, facing your fears and taking decisive action is something that you CAN plan for.

I hope you find this useful. As I said, I’ll write about this session two more times, highlighting additional areas of CEO concern. But in the meantime, please take a moment to let me know your thoughts on the issues above, or to add your perspectives to the discussion. I welcome your thoughts, even if you aren’t (yet) a CEO.


About John Lonsdorf

John is a recognized leader in the public relations and marketing communications fields and a 2019 inductee into the New Jersey Advertising Hall of Fame. He founded R&J in 1986 and has led the firm through several strategic re-brandings while building the agency into one of the region’s leading strategic communications consultancies. John has authored numerous articles on brand building and the role of public relations and the importance of integrated marketing, and has been a speaker and presenter at national conferences and symposia, in addition to sitting on several industry and not-for-profit boards. John impacts each account at R&J through his laser focus on strategic direction and his drive to provide clients with the maximum returns on their marketing communications investment.

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