Why CEOs Are Losing Credibility and How They Can Rebuild It

CEOs aren’t the most despised public figures in America today—this dubious honor seems to belong to the press and members of Congress—but their reputation has taken a hit in recent times.

Other credibility-killing behaviors include:

  • Hearing only what you want to hear. Some chief executives nurture independent thinkers within their inner circles. Others, however, recruit “yes-men” who mindlessly reinforce what the leader says and thinks. If this goes on long enough, the CEO can no longer speak truthfully to those he hopes to lead.
  • Tendency to blame others. No leader sets out to make mistakes—and some refuse to ever admit such a thing can happen. “When confronted by [their failures], they convince themselves and others that these problems are neither their fault nor their responsibility,” says Bill George, a Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School. “Using their power, charisma, and communications skills, they force people to accept these distortions, causing entire organizations to lose touch with reality.”
  • Making it all about me. The trappings of power that come with being a prominent CEO can distract even the most grounded individual. People are always clamoring to hear about their personal history, their professional opinions and their views about business in general. Under these circumstances, it doesn’t take long for a CEO to lose that most valuable trait: humility.

“For many of us, the idea of being a successful manager—leading the company from peak to peak, delivering the goods quarter by quarter—is an intoxicating one,” notes Novartis Chairman Daniel Vasella. “It is a pattern of celebration leading to belief, leading to distortion. When you achieve good results … you are typically celebrated, and you begin to believe that the figure at the center of all that champagne toasting is yourself.”

The first step to steering clear of these career detours is to be aware of them. Keeping these bullet points handy and reviewing them every few months, along with learning from others’ mistakes, can help keep a CEO focused on good judgment.

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