17 May 2016

Reinventing yourself for greater success personal, professional, organisational.

The era of CEO tenures of ten years or more service at the one company are all but gone – even five years is beginning to look out of the norm. The figures on average CEO tenure vary between studies, depending on regions and industries measured, but almost all come to the conclusion life at the top of the corporate tree is getting shorter.

According to one finding, “the average tenure of Fortune 500 CEOs is only 4.6 years, which shows that CEOs have a limited shelf-life.”

Interestingly, some studies have also indicated the average tenure for Australian CEOs is even lower, and the turnover rate is higher than by global standards, making Australia one of the toughest places to work for executives.

Those CEOs who have stood the test of time have been able to continuously change and reinvent themselves. They have shown the capacity to move with the times in their thinking and attitudes on innovation and disruption. In short, they have been able to continuously reinvent themselves. 

This is no easy task because CEOs face the challenge of satisfying both demanding short-term goals as well as longer term strategic aims, which is characterised by American CEO and author Gary Burnison as a “schizophrenic” situation:

“This balancing act between relentless quarterly earnings pressure from Wall Street, coupled with the need for a long-term strategy is why being a CEO can seem schizophrenic: have a long-term strategy, but meet this quarter’s expectations.”

The pressure to perform is immense, which is why it’s so important for executives to constantly be looking at ways they can improve.

The question is, can you challenge the norm?

The answer is yes. It's by reinventing yourself. Being courageous, staying ahead of the curve, looking beyond the horizon, challenging your people, embracing technology, being a disruptor.

This is especially relevant to those CEOs who have successfully traversed the ‘honeymoon’ phase of their time with a company. Usually the motivation to rethink and disrupt is strongest when we first take on a role. We approach entrenched problems and stagnant cultures with fresh eyes and the enthusiasm required to inspire our colleagues to embrace change.

But after this period we are faced with the danger of complacency. Rather than continuing to grow and challenge the status quo we too often sit back and set the controls to comfort zone.

This common phenomenon is known as the “seasons of a CEO’s tenure”. Columbia University business academics Donald Hambrick and Gregory Fukutomi identified five distinct phases in the lifecycle of most CEOs:

  1. response to mandate
  2. experimentation
  3. selection of an enduring theme
  4. convergence, and
  5. dysfunction

Hambrick and Fukutomi’s theory saw the convergence stage as being the peak period of CEO power, but this effectiveness was easily undermined when the executive was no longer engaged in active innovation and disruption, but was in the mode of maintenance and preservation, which then brings about a decay in forward-thinking strategy.

Disrupting the culture, the people, the thinking of a company is vital at all stages of CEO tenure, not only early on. 

Recruiting people that are different to you and constantly challenging the way you think and see your company is crucial to staying relevant as a leader. Staying abreast of competitive and technological changes in your industry is another. Looking beyond your industry to find new ways of doing things is also a key factor.

In order to ensure you are consistently creating interest, engaging your people and setting up your business for sustainable and enduring success, you need to continuously reinvent yourself. This holds even more true for those who have been in an organisation for five plus years. Don’t let complacency hold your potential as an effective CEO to hostage.

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