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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Next to being head of a country, being CEO of a multinational is one of the hardest jobs in the world. CEOs are under constant scrutiny from all sides, and it takes a specific type of personality to rise to the occasion.

One of the greatest pitfalls a leader can encounter is to confuse managing with leading, thereby leaving their company grasping for direction. Here are some of the more common traits that lead CEOs to stumble:


New CEOs and other top executives spin their wheels for two or more years trying to suss out what's working and what's not. Why? The longer a CEO waits to make substantive decisions, the easier it becomes for people inside the company to dig a foxhole and hide or, worse, send incomplete and inaccurate information up the chain of command. Everyone is afraid including the CEO, and if the CEO shows fear, he/she will be eaten alive. The board is watching the CEO, the investment sector is watching the CEO, the competitors, customers – everyone is applying their own kind of pressure.


Leaders often fail to understand cultures that differ from their own. What persuades in one culture will be greeted with resistance in another. The styles of personal interaction, the rituals around coming to an agreement, or the lack of willingness of a CEO to listen to the advice of country managers can undermine efforts across a multinational.


One CEO I know spent launch day of a new pharmaceutical product verbally abusing his marketing team, demanding that they turn the drug into instant cash. The CEO thought this approach would motivate the employees. Instead it shut them down. The drug failed. It may have failed anyway, but when employees are terrified of causing a misstep, inaction ensues.


The CEO changes navigation course every quarter because "the Street" or the board or both are demanding faster results. The CEO, eager to report strong earnings, fails to stay true to his/her vision. The employees are left feeling bewildered and confused over the company's strategy. This leads to a whole new set of problems. Managers become cynical. They, in turn, demoralize their direct reports and on down the ladder the negative attitude amplifies. The collective wisdom becomes: "Well, the strategy will change next quarter anyway, so what's the point?"


Managers reporting to C-Suite executives need to be empowered to carry out the vision with a clear a strategy, and in turn they must empower their own direct reports. When CEOs micromanage and let themselves get buried in the weeds of day-to-day details, the overarching strategy is doomed to failure.

Karen E. Berg is CEO of CommCore Strategies and a sought-after motivational speaker, executive coach, and communications trainer. As the author of Your Self-Sabotage Survival Guide (Career Press 2015), Karen has been a popular coach for Fortune 500 companies and a lecturer on communication issues for many institutions, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Department of Defense, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Wharton School of Business, New York University and Yale University.