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6 Issues CEOs Worry About and How to Resolve Them

It’s not exactly like a slumber party or singing ’round the campfire, but when a bunch of CEOs get together and talk about what really gets their juices flowing and what keeps them up at night, they can reveal some pretty interesting stuff.

That’s what happened recently at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles. The following is a compendium of concerns voiced by the business leaders gathered there, synthesized from USA Today.

Talent is front-of-mind. “We’re in the talent business,” said Jim Moffatt, CEO of Deloitte Consulting. His company is facing a growing challenge in engaging its millennial workforce because this cohort especially seeks flexibility and yet predictability, he said. Box CEO Aaron Levie added that competing firms can quickly pluck employees of his online storage firm—but that engineering talent actually can be least susceptible to being wooed away because they tend to work on long-term projects and are very engaged.

Security is a constant worry. All the ways that digitization makes their companies vulnerable keeps many CEOs up at night. Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei fretted that “tall poppies”— high-profile companies—will be easy and popular targets for hackers. Levie added that worries about data security have “gone exponential” for CEOs and this an area in which they must be directly involved.

“There is no penalty for trying and occasionally coming up short.”

CEO transparency is crucial. When it comes to leadership, some of these chiefs advocate total transparency. “If you insist everything is great when it isn’t, everyone can see right through it,” said Janet Napolitano, former head of Homeland Security and now president of the University of California. Better to state the problem and state plainly what you’re doing to fix it, she said. In turn, being more aware of their own imperfections should prompt business leaders to give a break to subordinates when they screw up, said Oaktree Capital Group Chairman Howard Marks. “There is no penalty for trying and occasionally coming up short,” he said.

Over-regulation thwarts progress. Many CEOs have been saying for years that the Obama administration’s zeal in enforcing regulations and coming up with new ones has caused a huge drag on the U.S. economy, and some of these CEOs agreed. Lebenthal CEO Alexandra Lebenthal said that as the number of regulations soar, it lights up the ways that employers might stumble. “There are so many regulations sometimes that you get tripped up,” she said.

There are practical paths to innovation. New products, processes and ways of thinking are crucial to company growth, but it’s not always as easy as it looks. These CEOs have found practical ways to produce what some see as serendipitous. Marks tries to be a “second-level” thinker—counterintuitive and independent-minded, sometimes going rogue from the pack. If you think like everyone else, he said, you’re going to act like everyone else. Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn said that innovation is a matter of thinking like the customer and trying to do the basics better—much better. “On detail,” Wynn said, “I’m a junkyard dog.”

Remember the importance of inspiring people. Americans are experiencing record levels of “disengagement” at work. But people will rise to the occasion when they feel they are part of a noble cause, not just making a buck, Marks said. “You have to stand for something other than just money,” Marks said.

Overall, these CEOs concluded at their Milken Institute gathering that their “dashboards” have more metrics than they used to, but that’s to be expected as CEOs’ responsibilities continue to expand.


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