The Three Keys To Success for Great CEOs

Mike Harden | | Operating with Vision

Ever wonder why some CEOs succeed so easily while others seem to struggle just to keep their company going? The answer is simpler than you think. Really great CEOs focus their efforts on three key factors: Clarity, Accountability, and KPIs.

Clarity is one of the most violated principles of running an organization. People in an organization often operate in ambiguity…they experience a lack of clarity in expectations, direction, and operating procedures. Often, managers or key employees will leave a meeting with completely different ideas of what needs to be done, even though you thought you were quite specific about what needs to be accomplished. Here is a simple, yet true-to-life example: You tell the team you want a certain report by “…the end of the week.” To one person, the end of the week is 5PM on Friday. To another, it’s midnight Friday evening. And to a third member, it’s Sunday!

If you had said: “I want the report no later than 5PM on Friday, June 27” there would be little ambiguity among your team members.

The same thing happens with expectations. If you aren’t clear in what you expect of someone, they will operate in a vacuum, conjuring up their own idea of what you want. Consequently, they will often be wrong and disappoint you (and themselves). No matter how cool it might be, your people can’t read your mind. If you aren’t crystal clear on your expectations, don’t expect the outcome you want to be achieved.

Accountability is often confused with punishment or consequences. This couldn’t be more wrong. Consequences are what occur when accountability is not achieved, but consequences are not accountability.

You can’t have accountability without having clarity (you can’t hold someone accountable if they never fully understood your instructions or expectations). When expectations are clear, it’s much easier for someone to feel accountable.

Accountability is fulfilling our commitment to our supervisor, our team, and ourselves. We demonstrate that we are reliable. In fact, accountability and reliability are almost interchangeable words. We make a commitment to do something by a certain time and with a certain level of effort. We commit to a specific outcome. When we deliver, our teammates feel that they can rely on us.

Accountability is an attitude, a state of mind, and even a way of life. CEOs must foster a culture of accountability in their organization. This happens by establishing expectations from the first day someone is hired, and by demonstrating it yourself.

When you have a culture of accountability, people will ask how they are doing because they want feedback so they can improve. I have always said that my “A” players hold themselves more accountable than I ever could. If one of them screwed up, before I could even counsel them, they were already beating themselves up: “I really screwed up. I’m really sorry. I’ll work over the weekend to fix it. I won’t let it happen again…” Sometimes, I actually felt bad for them, even though they may have lost me a prospective client. All because they felt so bad about it.

And team members should be able to hold each other accountable. If one of them makes a mistake, the others should be able to give them feedback without hesitation, and without any pushback. That’s how we learn and improve. If teammates aren’t comfortable giving each other feedback, then accountability doesn’t exist.

Accountability is nothing more than holding ourselves and our teammates to a high standard, knowing we can rely on each other, and committing to not let each other down.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the way we track and measure each other to ensure clarity and accountability are working. Investopedia defines key performance indicators as “a set of quantifiable measures that a company or industry uses to gauge or compare performance in terms of meeting their strategic and operational goals.” It goes on to say: “KPIs vary between companies and industries, depending on their priorities or performance criteria.” So, we use KPIs to measure our success in achieving our goals, which should happen if we have been clear, and if our culture fosters accountability.

Good KPI’s must:

  • Reflect, and relate directly to, the organization’s goals.
  • Be quantitative and quantifiable, i.e., measurable.
  • Be linked directly to the measurement of the organization’s success.

Without a formal set of objective, realistic, quantifiable, and actionable KPIs, your organization and management team may never be able to accurately assess its performance over time. However, by using the proper mix of KPIs, both the organization, and each of its key department and division managers, will be able to measure their success – or lack thereof – on an ongoing basis, with the ability to identify problems, cultivate opportunities, and make improvements, as necessary, all along the way. KPI’s are the lynchpin to achieving success.

Take a look at how you run your company or organization. Are you building your success through clarity, accountability, and KPI’s? If not, it’s time to get started.


Mike Harden

Mike Harden has developed exceptional depth and breadth of knowledge over his 40+ year career as an entrepreneur, executive, teacher, mentor, and coach. Today, as one of DC’s premier Executive Coaches, Mike helps good executives become great leaders. Find Mike on Google+

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