Article: The Maverick CEO


The Maverick CEO

The debate around whether a CEO needs to be a game changer or a good solid player continues
The Maverick CEO

CEOs need to be mavericks when things go horribly wrong and the organization needs an overhaul


They don’t levitate to their positions. They are neither appointed by a ‘high-power’ committee nor born with a silver spoon and they’re usually not related to the owners! They are Top-Gun CEOs who’ve had to prove their way at every stage to the top. A wag once said that good CEOs do different things – great CEOs do things differently! The big question is, in order to do things differently, did they have to rock the apple cart or just shake it up a bit?

CEOs need to be mavericks when things go very wrong – when revenue, profit, people and brand all take a beating in the market. It’s in times like these that the ‘traditional’ approach may not work. Heads in the leadership team would need to roll. Fiefdoms would need to be broken up. Outdated and fractured processes would need to be repaired or replaced. People would need to be reoriented about how life is going to be. Many life-decisions would need to be made.

The ownership’s brief to the CEO is simple: It’s broken, fix it! Not unlike the mandate our new Prime Minister has from the people of India. For India’s newly elected leader, the term maverick CEO will just have to be a tautology.

For stable organizations, the term maverick CEO becomes an oxymoron. Trying to fix things that aren’t broken only ends up with a huge mess that didn’t exist in the first place. However, the smartest CEOs know how to tell the difference! Here are some unique differentiators to separate the wheat from the chaff:

They were ready: For any leadership position, readiness level is critical. High skill, high will. The best CEOs are those who have cut their teeth in multiple yet relevant theatres, consistently demonstrated successes, handled varied difficult situations and yet emerged winners. So unless the CEO is the son of the owner, any selection committee will quickly eliminate anyone whose readiness level is not appropriate.

Play fast in the short-term, with an eye on the long term: The best CEOs have created their overall vision and aspiration for the organization, but have played hard for the here and now.

Take people with them: Effective CEOs have long recognized the importance and benefits of teamwork and partnerships. They are able to convince every one of their vision and how they plan to achieve it. Bringing together their leadership team, peer-group, employee population, external service providers and customers. It’s a prerequisite for being in business today!

Accept mistakes, and move on: Nobody’s perfect – including CEOs – and there’s no point getting hyper about it. Smart CEOs accept mistakes, fix them and move on. Yes it’s expensive today. Not doing anything about it will cost more in money and brand erosion tomorrow.

Walk and talk in the vernacular: Highly visible on the work-floor, talking straight and simple. The vernacular always gets the attention of the customer, the shareholder and the employee – making a connection. Finally! Someone who’s down to earth, who talks my language!

Whether the CEO should work like a Lou Gerstner or a Cyrus Mistry, Maverick or not, let’s just say that the jury is still out. It’s enough if they’re both Top Guns who see a ‘target rich environment’!

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Topics: Leadership, Strategic HR, #HRInsights

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