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CEO Best Practice: Skills Development

Executive Tools

  • Executive Summary
  • Self Assessment Checklist

Expert Practices Articles

  • CEO Skills: Three High-Leverage Points
  • The Organized Executive
  • The CEO as Coach
  • The Art of Coaching
  • Understanding Organizational Change
  • Pulse Points for Organizational Change
  • Managing Resistance to Change

Tools & Analysis

  • CEO Report Card
  • The Top 10 Characteristics of the Organized Executive
  • Organizational Evaluation Tool
  • Assessing Major Change
  • Self Assessment Checklist

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CEO Skills: Three High-Leverage Points

Some of these wide-ranging skills have far greater impact on your ability to lead your organization than others. As we move increasingly into an information/knowledge/service-based economy, the skills that seem to give CEOs the most leverage focus on managing people rather than the "hard asset" side of the business. Of course, you still have to know how to read a balance sheet, control inventories and things like that. But as technology continues to level the playing field, the only way left to gain a competitive advantage is with your people. In such a world, your people management skills -- at the individual and group levels -- will increasingly determine your organization's long-term success.
A primer on all the various people management skills could easily consume terabytes of hard disk space. To keep this best practices module manageable and to provide immediate take-home value, we decided to focus on three specific skills:

  1. Time management/personal organization
  2. Coaching
  3. Change management

Why did we select these three? Each skill is designed to bring out the very best in people. Time management starts at the personal level (you), coaching relates to managing people at the individual level, and change management looks at the organization as a whole. By developing your skills in these critical areas, you empower your people (and yourself) to bring out the best they have so that your organization reaches its full potential.

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The Organized Executive

According to Vistage Speaker Bruce Breier, successful executives manage four key areas of organization -- time, information, projects and people. When they do, they experience the "four C's" of personal organization: confidence, clarity, comfort and cohesion. To manage time, Breier recommends a disciplined process of daily planning that consists of five basic steps:

  1. Allocate time each day to recap the day and plan for tomorrow.
  2. Make it quality time by using a checklist agenda.
  3. Recap the day.
  4. Process all new paper, voice and e-mail messages.
  5. Plan tomorrow.

To manage information:

  • Use an L-shaped desk with a credenza behind you. Four trays go on the credenza. Three hold (in order) documents to work on during the day, documents pertaining to projects in progress and pending items. The fourth serves as your outbox. Your desk should be clear of everything except the documents you are currently working on.
  • Use a "43" file system to manage recurring paper -- the documents you need to see again, but not today. The term "43" comes from having a separate file for each day of the month (31) and each month of the year (12).
  • Use a labeled filing system (in a stand-alone file cabinet) to hold non-recurring documents that you need to see again but only when the situation calls for it.

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The CEO as Coach

The benefits of coaching include:

  • Improved retention
  • Better performance accountability
  • Succession planning
  • Truth-telling
  • Reinforced culture
  • Reduced employee conflict

Coaching leads to many positive outcomes at the individual and organizational levels. For individual employees, coaching:

  • Leads to breakthroughs on personal bottlenecks that limit performance
  • Brings performance to its highest capacity
  • Helps employees understand the intersection between themselves and their jobs
  • Creates enormous gains in emotional intelligence and effectiveness in people's entire interpersonal domain.

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The Art of Coaching

Mura's method of coaching, called the "Coaching Conversation©," consists of five distinct steps.

  1. Establish goals.
  2. Promote discovery.
  3. Determine a course of action.
  4. Authorize and empower.
  5. Recap.

Putting this process to work requires the following skills:

  • Contextual listening -- listening beyond the words and paying close attention to tone of voice, body language and other nonverbal communication
  • Discovery questioning -- asking open-ended questions that come from a non-expert position
  • Truth-telling -- laying reality out on the table for the coach and the "client" to see
  • Gap bridging -- clarifying where the client is and where they need to go, then identifying what they need to do to close the gap between the two
  • Celebrating -- affirming and celebrating the client's accomplishments as you move through the process

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Understanding Organization Change

Major organizational change occurs in three distinct phases: endings, the neutral zone and beginnings. Managing change during each phase requires different techniques to minimize resistance and keep people focused on the desired future state.


  • Acknowledge what people are losing.
  • When possible, compensate people for their losses.
  • Provide plenty of information about the change and why it is needed.
  • Identify what is over and what isn't.
  • Treat the past with respect.
  • Set limits.

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Managing Resistance to Change

Resistance is a normal part of the change process. The keys to managing it, say Poling and Daniels, are knowing what to expect, identifying the various kinds of resistance and putting plans into place to deal with them. People resist change for many reasons, including:

  • Not involved in planning the change
  • Personal disruption
  • Don't understand the benefits
  • Disagree with the change
  • Fear of the unknown

Poling identifies three specific types of resistance as the primary culprits in torpedoing change initiatives:

  • Dependency. Dependent employees won't take the initiative, they blame others and they refuse to take responsibility for their performance. They expect management to solve all their problems.
  • Counter-dependency. Counter-dependent employees refuse to follow rules and procedures even when they make sense for everyone involved.
  • Fear. When people get scared, they resist.

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