Don Van Winkle

This is Not Your Father’s Business World

January 15, 2017

The late Steve Jobs was notorious for respecting only those who challenged him. Fortunately, sycophants are a dying breed.

The iron-willed “go-it-alone” CEO of years past is both rare and ill-suited for today’s complex and diverse business world. In this still-young 21st century, the world is more advanced, communication more accelerated, and technology more sophisticated than your father’s wildest dreams.

Employees, once dedicated, are now more autonomous and demanding–and less loyal. Capital access is more guarded while the Internet allows access to information and comparisons in ways no one could have imagined 20 years ago. While “go it alone” may seem to some a romantic ideal reminiscent of an earlier golden age, in reality the lone-wolf CEO occurs as an anachronism.

Today’s successful CEO relies on more candid communication and broader peripheral vision, leveraged through the insight of informed and trusted peers under an unwavering canopy of confidentiality. This often leads to healthy introspection, including questions such as: Who am I and what is my purpose?

The next-level CEO has learned to welcome the different perspectives and experiences of others, and recognizes the power of accountability. This is in sharp contrast to the old model of “go-it-alone” CEOs, many of whom continue to be paranoid, distrustful and insecure to the end. These CEOs often lack the emotional balance to give and get counsel within a well-structured peer accountability environment. Instead, they default to a position of relying on the biased input of others well-versed in telling the CEO “only what he or she wants to hear”—to the detriment of their personal growth; the wellbeing of their employees; and the success of their business.

The late Steve Jobs was notorious for respecting only those who challenged him. Fortunately, sycophants are a dying breed. Far better to give new CEOs a wide and diverse range of input, thinking, creativity and support that makes them happy and inspired. Overlay this with the grit, perseverance, fortitude, vision and focus equated with great CEOs, and we see that today’s CEOs are more relevant, with huge leverage at their disposal.

Often, one of these CFO/CEO special project engagements evolves into a mentoring relationship and/or a Board Position. Ideal situations are those Board positions that can efficiently utilize both Lead Director and Corporate Development skills. If not me directly, I have a bench of talented executives that stand ready and welcome that level of engagement.