Industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie suggested that his epitaph read, “Here lays a man who knew how to enlist in his service better men than himself.” If Carnegie wasn’t a financial genius, he found someone (Charles Schwab) who was. If he was too conciliatory, he chose an operations manager (Henry Frick) who was not.
Leaders need a diversity of opinions; they need to surround themselves with those who have different skills, perspectives, and the ability to stand up and say, “No.” Surrounding yourself with only those who agree is the quickest, easiest way to make mistakes.
Yes-men: Satisfy The Ego, and Destroy The Company
The number one way for a CEO to guard against mistakes is having people on the team that question him or her.
More on Managing Teams
The last thing that a chief executive wants is to make a decision, have everyone agree or say nothing, fail spectacularly, and then hear, “I didn’t think that would work,” or “I didn’t think that was a good idea.” Why didn’t they say something?
Well, the CEO is the reason they didn’t say something.
Often, top executives make mistakes – be it a shaky investment, missteps on a strategic initiative, or a bad hire – because their people are too afraid to speak up. They foster a culture in which people do not feel welcome to challenge the CEO. The environment discourages people from dissenting or identifying problems in leaders’ ideas. These employees may not be “yes-men,” per se, but they are fearful of the repercussions of challenging the CEO.
The Dangers of Flattery & Opinion Conformity
Other times, CEOs fall into the “flattery and opinion conformity” trap. A study done by researchers at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and the University of Michigan concluded that flattery and opinion conformity “increase CEOs’ overconfidence in their strategic judgment and leadership capability, which results in biased strategic decision making.” They negatively impact their firm’s performance, or keep it at “persistently low” levels.
If you have created this type of fear or crony culture, you are going to really step in it because you don’t have anyone around to watch out for you. You don’t have someone to say, “That’s a bad idea, and here’s why. If we do X, then we can expect these consequences.” Without a sounding board, both minor and monumental errors are going to occur.
The best way to prevent mistakes is to make a concerted effort to surround yourself with A players who disagree with you sometimes, and are willing to step up and say it. They won’t tell you what you want to hear; they’ll tell you what you need to hear.