Five Deadly CEO Mistakes

By Masood Jabbar

Why only five when one can write a book on the subject? Well, some are obvious so I will not dwell on those. In this blog, I will focus on just five based on being a CEO coach, as well as my personal experiences and challenges being a CEO.


The single most frequent regret I hear from a CEO is, “ I should have acted sooner”. Not moving on a non or sub performing executive quickly is a fatal flaw that clogs up an enterprise. Why you ask? Simple! You could hire an “A” player as opposed to allowing “C” player to occupy a vital seat in your organization. An “A” player gives your company an advantage a “C” player causes you to lose that edge in the marketplace. and give your competitor an edge.. More importantly it sends a very demoralizing signal to your employee base, specially the high achievers and they lose faith in the CEO’s judgment. They see this lack of action as lowering the bar and tend to be the first to jump ship.

Timing is everything. In fact time is a currency more so in todays world than ever before and most don’t value its importance. If the CEO doesn’t respect it by acting in a timely manner no one else will.

If you are data driven, and hold people accountable it is not hard to weed out non performers. Needless to say you have to first ask your self if this executive is in the right slot and do they have the requisite skill set to excel in their role. Accountability is a function of two variables:

Account X Ability. If the individual does not have the ability then holding them accountable is a fools errand.

Two very important lessons I have learnt over the years with a lot of grey hair:


2. CHANGE BEFORE YOU HAVE TO CHANGE. By the time you get to the point where you have to act, it is already too late.


This phenomena is a second cousin to the first mentioned above.

As they say if you want loyalty get a dog. Loyalty is no substitute for performance. Some CEO’s have this “touchy feely” kind of an attitude and have a hard time saying, “yes you were a great contributor three years ago, but what are you doing to move the needle today”? Peter principle is alive and well and more often than not raises its ugly head. If both the employee and the CEO don’t invest in skills development and continuous improvement the world passes you by and the value to the enterprise is significantly diminished.

Every employee should be viewed as someone who adds advantage to the enterprise. I often hear, “if you don’t design, build or sell you are overhead”. While technically correct it is a wrong approach. Your receptionist could hurt or help your business in the way she greets or answers the phone. I will argue they are critical to your success. Hire and treat all employees with a mindset they will add significant competitive advantage to your company.


Risk is when you have some idea of the outcome within a range of probabilities. Uncertainty is when you don’t have a clue of what the outcome could be.. I equate uncertainty to gambling and risk as placing a calculated bet. CEOs often get distracted by a bright shiny object that is well beyond the company’s wheelhouse. They invest resources and management bandwidth in areas that are orthogonal to their existing business without fully understanding what is required to succeed in that business. They narrowly focus on the opportunity in terms of potential but forego answering questions like do we have the distribution channels, technical expertise , or a sales force capable of selling to the right audience. I see this more often than not that a company tries to move up the value chain from being a purveyor of commodity products to value added sales. Or transition from being a hardware technology company to a software company. Easier said then done. I can’t think of a single company that has successfully made that transition without a wholesale change in a company’s DNA. Advice: don’t do it. It is a bet that will not payoff unless you are willing to take some bold actions and make significant changes to your team.


This should be considered a blinding flash of the obvious. Yet in the heat of battle often CEOs lose sight of providing a sense of seriousness of purpose in the company. Every employee should be on the same page when it comes to understanding the company strategy, its values and what is expected from them. The first thing I look for when I am invited to a company for advice is if there is a cadence or rhythm to the way the company operates. The first sign of trouble is if the company is missing that beat, it tells me there is no formal decision making process, no forum to learn from each other, no structure and no mechanism to detect early warning indicators. In other words not only the employees but the entire company is coasting and if not corrected it is bound to put the company in a situation where it is losing altitude and gaining speed. You don’t have to be a jet pilot to realize it is not a good place to be.

While I am not a war monger, running an enterprise is not for the weak of heart. You and your employees’ singular purpose is to win. At Sun we lived by the mantra, “HAVE LUNCH OR BE SOMEONES LUNCH”. I would rather eat.


It baffles me to see how many CEOs don’t realize they have to be on 24X7. Whether they are in the office or not. Employees are much smarter than they get credit for. They can read the CEOs

state of mind by just looking at their body language. When they see the CEO in stress, they feel it and interpret the worst possible scenario from it. While CEO is a title it is actually much more than that. They are the visionary, the soothsayer, the cheerleader, the confidence builder, they are the inspiration and draw the best out of everyone plus much more. They are always “doing”, hence the verb. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown is the saying that best describes the CEO. Its like living in a glass house, everyone is looking in. Don’t mean to be paranoid but that

is what being “on” 24X7 looks like and not everyone is suited for this job. If you are doing it for the title, I am afraid you will be disappointed.

Please don’t lose sight of what he employee looks for from their leader. You must check all four boxes, three out of four is not good enough.

1. Do you know where you are taking us—-Vision .

2. Do you know how to get there?—-Strategy followed by tactics.

3. Will you show me how I can make this journey with you?—Invest in me

4. Do you care about me?—Compassion. Demanding but fair.

You can argue my views are not valid in Pakistan. Actually I hear that a lot and some of it may be true, but this connected world has declared the death of distance and both Pakistan and the rest of the world will have to adapt to compete on a world stage.

Clearly this is an incomplete list, and I am not wedded to it but as of today this would be my top five. I welcome your input and critique and lets see if we can come up with a better list by leveraging your experiences.

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