Dear CEO…

I recently read Dear CEO, which is a collection of specially-commissioned letters to a fictional CEO from some of the most respected business leaders in the world.

While many of the letters include plenty of “management speak”, using tired words and phrases like disruption, helicopter view, game changer, etc., there were several original and intriguing ideas about leadership that I wanted to pass on.

Here are seven interesting ideas that I took away from this book:

Think of yourself as a Chief Behavior Officer, rather than a Chief Executive Officer. 

Every organization runs on behavior, of course. This is obvious, yet, as leaders it’s an important shift in thinking that Lee Newman, dean of IE’s School of Human Sciences and Technology and professor of behavior, leadership and analytics, thinks important. What makes or breaks an organization is not what they say – it’s what they do. Newman points out that it’s bad behavior at work that kills productivity, destroys motivation and blocks goals. He believes that when CEO’s acknowledge their role as someone in charge of positively shaping behavior, they can have a much greater impact.

Give away unused ideas and technologies. 

Henry Chesbrough, faculty director of the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation at the UC Berkeley-Haas School of Business, asserts that organizations should give some valuable ideas away. Doing so might allow your organization to conduct free market research that expands thinking, since other organizations may take a very different approach to exploiting the idea than yours would. “If the venture finds a good fit with the market, you have an option: take a piece of the growth, or reacquire the venture and scale it inside, or do nothing,” he says.

Reward those who develop talent.

Study after study shows that workplaces are full of unmotivated, disengaged employees. I’ve talked about it here, on this blog, many times. Whitney Johnson, author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work, has a few suggestions for how to increase engagement and get the most from your most talented team members. One of the most interesting ideas is to identify and reward “talent developers” – the people you notice encouraging and training others who might someday replace them. As she explains, “Managers add value by developing nascent talent.”

Ideas with unanimous support should raise a red flag.

Chengwei Liu, an associate professor of strategy and behavioral science at Warwick Business School, argues that unanimous support is too good to be true and is likely to be an indicator of politicking and compromise. He asserts that everyone has preferences and biases about pretty much everything. Therefore, when they all reach a unanimous decision easily, it’s often an indication of something destructive going on under the surface rather than of people being prepared to make important, difficult choices. He even goes so far as to recommend choosing an idea or appointing a candidate who goes against unanimity or is even hated by colleagues. “These wildcards are likely to be opposed or hated for good reasons and can shake things up,” he says.

Data analytics is not always the best foundation for choices that affect the future. 

For a while now, experts have been telling us that data analytics, especially when combined with artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, and the internet of things, is the future and the answer to most of our most difficult problems. Yet Roger L Martin, director of the Martin Prosperity Institute, thinks CEOs would be better off questioning whether decisions based on data analytics is the right approach. What is the probability that making a choice about the future based on data analytics will turn out badly? His answer is this: “High. Last time I checked, frequently the future turns out to be unexpectedly different from the past – annoyingly so, in fact.”

Hire a Chief Entrepreneur.

Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, authors of Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Gamechangers and Challengers, make a good case for the value of hiring a few true entrepreneurs and letting them do what they do best – innovate. We know that success in every industry is pretty much impossible without innovation, so it’s not surprising that it’s on the minds of most CEOs. But, the challenge is that CEOs are tasked with balancing the future with the present. How do they make sure that their organization is on track for tomorrow without risking it falling apart today? Hire a Chief Entrepreneur to work alongside the CEO and focus all their energy on innovation and the future.

Let people choose their own managers.

What can organizations do to make sure that their people are happy with their managers? According to Henry Stewart, author of The Happiness Manifesto, they should let people choose their own managers. At first, this might seem like an odd, even unwise, idea. But, we also know that many people don’t like their managers, an issue that can cause talented people to move on to other opportunities just to get away from their boss. Stewart points out that giving people this level of autonomy generally works perfectly well on projects where people work for weeks or months for someone who is not their line manager. And what if someone isn’t chosen to be a manager? Stewart notes that sometimes management isn’t even necessary and that freeing up the person we might have chosen as the “manager” might be a better use of their strengths.

What piece of advice would YOU offer to other CEOs?

This is a valuable question to ask ourselves, regardless of our current position, because it helps us identify the things that are working right. And, the more we identify those things, the more resources we can point in their direction.

About Dan Finerty

Dan Finerty is the Director of Marketing at the Mountain West Credit Union Association, a Credit Union champion, a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE), and an award-winning marketer. Dan has over 14 years of marketing experience in communications, retail, packaged goods, and, of course, Credit Unions. He believes that Credit Unions have an incredible story to tell and works with some of the brightest Credit Union professionals to help promote Credit Unions to the public. Dan holds two Bachelor’s of Science in Marketing and in Management. He is also a swell guy.


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