You Need Courage to be a Great CEO

By YPO member Mark Moses

What are you so afraid of?

I often listen to frustrated entrepreneurs and CEOs rattle off a laundry list of challenges and worries, things they “can’t” do, things they “shouldn’t” do. One way or another, it’s all fear: fear of change, fear of making choices, fear of striving for greatness, fear of thinking BIG when good feels “good enough.”

If you’re running a business that’s running itself into the ground, do yourself a favor: step outside your office and look at the plaque on your door. It says CEO! If you don’t have the courage to make the tough calls and point your business toward bigger things, who will?

Average CEOs play nice and make getting along with everybody a high priority. Great CEOs have the courage to make the tough decisions and only have five priorities: vision, cash, top-notch employees, key relationships and learning. Notice that “make sure everyone likes me” is not on that list.

Here are two common excuses CEOs give when they lack the courage to make a tough staffing decision. Have the courage to brush these mental obstacles aside, and a path toward BIG things will open up in your business, and your life:

No matter how buddy-buddy your corporate culture feels, your C-suite execs are not your family. They work for you, with you, and in a sense, you work for them too. Your top performers trust you to do what’s best for the company. They’re not looking for another friend — they want to win, and they don’t want to be burdened with underachieving coworkers. If your lack of courage sinks the business in red ink and pink slips, nobody will be happy.

As Jim Collins says in his book “Good to Great,” “When you think you need to make a hiring change, act. Keeping the wrong people around is not fair to all the right people.” Top companies don’t worry about how other employees are going to feel about fired underperformers. They don’t settle for good employees — they identify the top talent in their industries, and they do whatever it takes to get those people on board.

Believe me, I get this one. I have a family, and as I’ve built up successful businesses over the past 30 years, there have been times that I’ve struggled to balance my work commitments with being a husband and dad. I’ve had to fire good, likeable people who were not good enough at their jobs. I’ve stared down potential bankruptcy, and worried that my decisions were going to have negative impacts on my family, and the people I worked with.

But nothing is going to make you feel guiltier than standing in front of your employees and your loved ones, telling them that you’ve failed as CEO, and the company is shutting down.

No, it’s not fun firing nice people, people you spend eight hours per day with, people whose families you know. Letting go of someone who has been with the company forever might not be a popular decision. But “nice guy” is not a job, especially if that “nice guy” is dragging down your business and putting your other employees’ jobs at risk.

Longtime employees might have been good enough to get you where you are, but they may never turn into great employees who are going to help you fulfill your ultimate vision of success.

So, yes, you’re going to feel guilty firing people, especially nice people. But I’ve talked to so many top CEOs who tell me that they feel a lot worse when they’ve waited too long to make a necessary change.

Look, not everybody is cut out to be a great CEO. The most successful companies have CEOs who have the courage to make the tough decisions when the success of the business is on the line. That courage isn’t just going to make you a better CEO, it’s going to make you a better, happier, more fulfilled person.

YPO member Mark Moses is the author of the international bestselling book, “Make Big Happen,” and the Founding Partner of CEO Coaching International, coaching more than 150 of the world’s top high growth entrepreneurs and CEOs in 16 countries. His firm coaches clients on how to dramatically grow their revenues and profits; implement the most effective strategies; become better leaders; grow their people; build accountability systems and elevate their own performance. Moses has won the Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and the Blue Chip Enterprise award for overcoming adversity. 

With more than 26,000 members in more than 130 countries, members of YPO are peers who share in common the achievement of success at an early age; a commitment to learning as a lifelong adventure; and a desire to connect authentically in an environment of trust and confidentiality. If you are a member interested in contributing, please email blog@ypo.org.