Here is my (running) list of 29 CEO blind spots I have seen over the years. Take a look and see which ones apply to you (warning: remember they are blind spots, so you might not recognize them and you may want to ask your close advisors to help you!)
Market Blind Spots
1. Not focusing on the best customer segments for your company– In the beginning, you just wanted customers. Anyone that would pay for using your product was a great win. But, over time, you need to focus your limited resources on the best possible customers. Once you find your best customer segment to target, you need to find the best influencers, indirect marketing channels, and indirect sales channels to reach them. Most CEOs are blind or partially blind with respect to their market. Optimize your focus to achieve market clarity!
2. Not finding or losing the true voice of your customers– You may have started with a clear voice of the customer, as you were on the front lines of your organization. But as you grow, you lose a real sense of the customer because you are exposed to a limited sample and you are getting filtered information from sales, customer service, marketing, and other departments. You need a true voice of the customer if you are going to perfect your delivery into the market. The more complete, the better.
3. Not understanding the competitive dynamics in the market– There is a lot going on in your market but, like the voice of the customer, you have limited and filtered information coming to you. The more clearly you understand the competitive dynamics, the better you can adjust what you are doing to address the issues and opportunities. For example, if a competitor is having problems you might want to acquire its best people and target its customers! If a competitor is moving right, you might want to cover it or you might want to move left. Either way, you need to understand what is going on and then do something about it!
4. Not creating the right ecosystem surrounding your company– Every company needs an ecosystem of integrations, partners, influencers, advisors, and others in order to really own and defend a product market. Many CEOs are blind to the need to target and create the right ecosystem.
Market Touch Point Blind Spots
5. Not focusing on competitive advantage– If you want to win, you have got to focus on creating competitive advantage. If you don’t know what your advantage and disadvantage is or if you don’t have clear goals for improving it, you are running blind!
6. Not focusing/aligning your touch points in a way that keeps your brand promise and creates your competitive advantage- your touch points include your product, professional services, customer services, marketing, sales, billing, and other interactions with your market participants. Focusing and aligning your touch points to deliver on your brand promise is key, but many CEOs don’t have this as a clear focal point.
Methodology/Process Blind Spots
7. Being too process-oriented– In the early development of your product and customers you need to maximize your ability to make changes and test new approaches. Being too process oriented both takes focus away from more important things and reduces your ability to iterate extremely quickly.
8. Not being process-oriented enough– As your touch points with the market become clear and are working well, you need to scale up everything you are doing. If you don’t have clear methodologies/processes in place, you won’t have a consistency of touch points and scaling up will be difficult. What worked in the early stage doesn’t work in the expansion stage!
People Blind Spots
9. Hiring below par in areas in which you are strong– This is the number one most common blind spot for CEOs. You are good at sales management so you don’t hire a strong sales manager. You are good at product management, so you don’t hire a strong product manager.
10. Hiring “caretaking” managers rather than “creating” managers– Your company needs senior people that can create methodology, programs, and teams, but many CEOs are blind to the fact that really good senior managers may not actually be really good for your company because they don’t have experience creating. If you need creation, hire people that can create!
11. Not creating new senior roles as the company grows– Young companies have small management teams and successful larger companies have larger management teams. As your company grows, CEOs need to carve out new senior roles, but many CEOs are blind in recognizing the need. For example, one of the most important senior roles that generally gets carved out too late is the Product Management role. It is the most difficult role to carve out politically, as either the CEO or development head clings to it too long. Another role that gets missed in many companies is the Business Development head, who generally works to build out the company’s ecosystem (#4 above)
12. Not hiring the best person into each role– As your company grows, you have the ability to hire more specialized and more experienced people into most jobs. Many CEOs follow a blind loyalty to their incumbent employees rather than matching the best person to the job (you can still be loyal by getting the incumbent manager into the right role for them!). Often CEOs don’t know what “A-Caliber” looks like in a particular position because they haven’t experienced it yet…this is a real blindness that the board, investors, advisors, and professional recruiters can help with.
13. Not building a high-performing team– High performing teams can have 10x the impact of the same people operating as a low performing team. Many CEOs are blind to this fact and don’t put the effort into building the teamwork into the team.
14. Not building a high-performing board– Great boards add significant impact and network to a company, but some CEOs are blind to this fact and consider the board a necessary evil. Again, the board, investors, advisors, and professional recruiters can help with this.
Management System Blind Spots
15. Not Being Clear on the company’s aspirations (mission, vision, values), Competitive Advantage goals, business growth strategies, or company development strategies. The CEO, many times, believes there is clarity, but CEOs are blind to the fact that most people in the organization don’t really have the clarity (you can test this by individually asking several people what they are…I guarantee you will get different answers!). The more clarity the te am has about what the long term goals are, the more they will naturally do things that will get you there quicker!
16. Being vague on Goals– CEOs are blind to the fact that the goals are not clear to the organization. Very few companies get truly locked and loaded for the year and locked and loaded for each quarter. Again, you can test your blindness by surveying a few people independently. The more clear the goals, the easier it will be for your team to achieve them.
17. Being too detailed with Goals– If you have too many goals or you are too detailed with the goals you give your team, it is just as bad as being vague on goals. The team will not have clarity about which goals to focus on. The CEO thinks that he/she is being clear, but is blind to the fact that too many goals lowers clarity.
18. Not developing and maintaining a rhythm in the organization– Organizations perform best if they have a rhythm to them (I like annual, quarterly, weekly, and daily cycles). Many CEOs fail to recognize the need to develop a rhythm and, therefore, do not create one in the organization. As a leader, there are many ways to create rhythm.
19. Not ensuring that the organization is up to date– All of the important information gets to the CEO, and the CEO sometimes becomes blind to the fact that the rest of the organization does not have this information. Keeping the organization up to date on the state of the markets and company is important, as it helps everyone understand where you are as a company. This, combined with where you want to go, helps people to know what they need to do to close the gap.
20. Trusting a new senior person too much– Some CEOs hire a new senior person and assume they know exactly what to do. They are blind to the fact that the senior person does not know the goals and aspirations for the company, the goals and aspirations for the unit the senior person is managing, and the history of what has been tried successfully and unsuccessfully to date in the unit. This raises the probability of the new person failing in the role.
21 Not Trusting a new senior person enough– Entrepreneurs are generally control freaks. It’s what makes them successful in the early stage of a business as many pieces need to be created and aligned. As the company grows and the entrepreneur remains the CEO, they are sometimes blind to the management style change that they need to make to allow a senior person to be successful in their organization. The senior person needs the full understanding described above, but the senior person also needs enough operating room to build a unit and accomplish the goals.
22. Spending time on things that other people should be doing for the company– As the organization grows, the role of the CEO changes and many CEOs are blind to the need to change. The CEO’s role tends to start off focused on product and then turns to customer development and company development. Over time, the CEO role has only three things that matter and everything else should be delegated to the team.
Economic Model Blind Spots
23. Not having a clear understanding of the company’s economic model– Your economic model is the model that articulates how the activities (and their costs) and pricing create your cash flow from customers and how the two together drive your current and projected economic results. The better a CEO understands the economic model, the better you can determine what adjustments you should try to improve your economic model performance. Many CEOs are blind to the company’s true economic model or overly complicate it which makes it difficult to manage.
24. Lack of economic model goals– Goals, combined with the current situation, create the basis for change. Many CEOs are blind to the need for economic goals or are blind to what they can do to improve economic model performance.
Other CEO Blind Spots
25. Being the chicken playing the piano– Some CEOs blindly do the same things that worked for them in prior companies or that they see other people doing. Some chickens are trained to think that playing the piano gets them food so they keep playing the piano over and over. Approaches that worked in the past or work for others won’t necessarily work for you in your present situation! This poor chicken plays the piano and then looks for the food that doesn’t arrive. Don’t be the piano playing chicken!
26. Following poor advice from trusted sources– Having a great set of trusted advisors is really important, but not all advice is good advice. But many CEOs blindly follow the advice of their trusted advisors. Take the advice for what it is worth, consider it in the context of your situation, and test the advice with others before you act on it!
27 Not listening to great advice from certain sources– Some CEOs are blind to advice from people they don’t trust. There are a lot of great ideas out there and many newer people on the scene that you don’t trust may have the best new ideas!
28. Going wide– The number of possible things that a company can do is endless. Some CEOs are blind to the fact that the more things you try to do, the fewer things you will accomplish. It is really important to focus on the few things that matter and drive those things to completion, but many CEOs try to get their organizations to do too many things, and it actually makes the organization accomplish less!
29. Being Lonely– Some CEOs are blind to the fact that the role of the CEO is the loneliest role in the company. When I tell these CEOs about how the role is the loneliest role in the company, I generally can see them relax…it is a lonely role, so if you are lonely in the role, you are normal!
This is my CEO blind spot list for now. What are your blind spots? What are the CEO blind spots that I am missing from the list?