Three signs of a bad CEO

Great executives excel at three critical things

i) Effective communication,

ii) Rely on the people, trust in systems and procedures and

iii) Continuous learning. A bad CEO or leader fails flat on all three. Here is how to lead well.

(i) Communication.

By far, President Barack Obama is a great orator and an effective communicator. Before he speaks, he not only understands the audience by knowing “what the audience wants to hear”, he asks: “what is the key message I want this audience to take?”

He then identifies three to four key points to illustrate and reinforce the message. The key message or the anchor message is critical for effective communication. Everything else you say must reinforce the message. That way, you remain consistent and clear. Even if you are asked divergent questions, you can bring the audience back to your key message.

All great leaders share a similar trait, effective communication. And make no mistake. Public speaking is different from effective communication. Public speakers aim for a standing ovation. They focus on delivery and ‘popularity’ messages that wow the audience to identify with the speaker and get buy-in. However, great communicators deliver a key message, good or bad, in an effective way. 

How do you deliver bad news and keep people’s morale high? How do you speak about contentious issues and leave people comfortable?

Here is an extract from Obama’s eulogy to the Charleston community on the death of nine in Church, as reported by

“You don’t have to be of high station to be a good man. Preacher by 13. Pastor by 18. Public servant by 23. What a life Clementa Pinckney lived,” Obama said. “What an example he set. What a model for his faith. And then to lose him at 41 – slain in his sanctuary with eight wonderful members of his flock, each at different stages in life but bound together by a common commitment to God.”

He went ahead to sing the amazing great, to a standing ovation.

(ii) Rely on the people, trust in systems and processes

Any leader who does everything by himself is not worth the leadership title. You must identify great people and empower them accordingly. Rely on the people. For this to be sustainable, you work with the people to establish effective systems and processes over critical business functions for long-term growth.

Bad leaders think nothing can move unless they are present.

(iii) Continuous learning.

No one is too good to be great. Bad leaders think they know it all. You must read, travel and network. Try to interact with new folks and cultures and read books which are not your primary profession. I learn a lot these days by reading about medicines and watching science fiction movies! Do not be too busy to feed your brains.

You’ve surely worked with many great leaders. What have you found makes one a great leader? Please share your views.

Mustapha B. Mugisa is a CEO at; and publisher of the book, Your Three Keys To a Worry-Free Life. 

Articles: 15

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