Why Owners are Often Unable to Find a Good CEO

Article Why Owners are Often Unable to Find a Good CEO

Everybody knows, but nobody talks about it. Catch 22 in the field of hiring.

The scenario is quite common: the founder figures out something new, better, stubbornly drives it, builds a company which works just fine and grows. Eventually, he needs a different management structure, new people, middle and higher management, because he simply cannot manage it all. Moreover, he has lost the enthusiasm to manage everything. He would want to do just those 3 things he loves to do and leave everything else up to the hired professionals.

The owner tries a couple of CEOs, however, none of them is really good enough. Everybody is good at particular part, however, the overall results do not meet the owner's expectation. The CEO just was not that brilliant, after all. And he could be and most of all, he should be brilliant. The owner finds another CEO candidate, who should help him out. This professional manager will not fulfill the owner's expectations again.  Either as a consequence of an incident or a mistake, he will loose the owner's trust. Another CEO is gone.

How can this be? There are lots of clever brilliant people out there. is is because the owner lacks the talent to attract them? Does he miss an HR skill? 

There might be a parallel story going on 

Let's switch to the role of the owner now: I might be missing something really important here. I am a reasonable man and what I say, definitely has some logic to it. How could it be that inspite of all that I have achieved and that I understand - which proves that I do have the skill to manage people - I am still not able to find a good CEO? I am successful in other areas. Something must be wrong here. The only possible explanation is that what I do, does not correlate with what I say I do. I must be doing somehting unconsciously - it must be that I do unknowingly do something, even though I talk nicely and reasonably about not doing it at all.

Maybe I am not looking for the genius brilliant people that much, after all. Maybe I do not even want them to be successful. If they were sucussfull in the tasks I give them, it might threaten myself in the end - I might even loose my role in my own company. Now, I do not want that, I have sacrified a big part of my life for the company. On the other hand, I do fully understand that I am not able to operationally manage everything. That is why I joined a training focused on how to delegate. I learned several principles of project management, checked our processes, found out that my company could be doing a lot better, I deployed a better controlling system - I really need a new CEO for all of this. I finally found him. He did not last longer than a year or two, again.

In his famous book “Toward a Psychology of Being” Maslow said the following simple idea about the connection between knowing and action. He says that knowing is almost the same as acting. “Where we know fully and completely, suitable action follows automatically and reflexly.” It does make sense to rather not know and keep myself away from knowing that the problem of the company is inside of me. If I knew I would have to do somehing, which I most probably do not feel like wanting to do.  Maslow continues: “Often it is better not to know, because if you did know, you would have to act, and stick your neck out.”


If there is an inconsistency between what I say and what I do, the result may be seen as something unexplainably and mysteriously not working properly, although there is no obvious reason for this strange paradigm.  Although it may appear as a relatively simple thing, nobody is able to correct it. The usual reason is the inconsistency between what leaders say and what they do. I want to do good, but I am only after the money. I say I want to serve the public, but what I really want is to steal something for myself. Such discrepancies are a catastrophy for an organisation even when they are being made consciously.  However, if the discrepancy's nature si such that the leader does not even know there is a discrepancy, the basic communication and the sense of meaning within the organisation are sabotaged.

Others know exactly what the problem is, but nobody tells me about it. Their engagement is low.

Everybody in my team knows exactly what value I bring to my own company. They know exactly, how I hurt my own company, as well. I can tell the same thing about the others - for my employees I am the others. I am sure they did try do tell me. And I am absolutely sure I explained in detail, they are wrong and that the reasons for why I do the things they addressed, are dramatically different from their perception. They might have been using very clumsy language, since it is "kind of a weird topic." It is inappropriate to judge and address the character features of your boss. The boss may therefore fail to get the message they are trying to give. After a number of attempts to explain what the owner fails to do or is really bad at, they always give up. "He will just not get it. It is useless. We'll live with it."

I myself know many people, whose one feature is mostly apparent to me, however, it is a complete waste of time to try to explain what it is to them. They will not understand. How could it possibly be that I am not just as they are? The problem in my company is that I have the power over the others - I am the owner and the boss. Employees will not tell me anything that might place them in jeopadry. Anything truly sincere they will criticize me for, will in fact endanger their position, unless I accept it. The probablility of me accepting their criticism about my personality is a still a probability, the risks of me not accepting it are real and high.

I don' understand what they want

In fact, I think it is quite cowardish of them, actually, I love open communication. However, it is much more likely that I am wrong, not them. Maybe I truly am not able to understand and accept what they are telling me or what they are trying to tell me. If I did, there would be nothing for them to say about me. The reasons, why I will not undrestand, have nothing to do with the business itself. It is merely a personality and my personal issue. The reasons may be various. I may be afraid of loosing control, I may feel uncertain, I may have an obcession to save other, to gain respect of others, I might have never actually seen delegation as a concept that might work in my family, I might have a character feature, which helps me close business deals, however, which prevents me from developing authentic relationships with others, or a thousand other reaons. The basic reason, however, is in myself much more likely than in the others being incompetent or of no use - just becase they are unable to deliver simple thing.

If everyone else was so incompetent, the company would not have survived so many years

Working in these circumstances must eventually push us all to repeat the same pattern over again: I keep looking for a new ideal CEO, others know that even if I found one, he would loose my trust for some pettiness, I completely disagree with that and so we turn around repeatedly and nobody is able to cut through the Catch 22 situation. The company grows, more tasks are pending, the organisation is close to insanity, I think the others are almost useless and they think I am nuts.

What is the solution?

Just like all other good solutions, it is easy to say and much harder to do. The problem should be identified, removed and then we can start doing thing differently. If the problem is indeed in my own inner psychology, it is the psychologists who should identify what the problem is exactly. No other profession can do it. It is also the matter of psychology to remove the problem. Psychology does not deal with family and partnerhsip relationships only. It is just as important at work. It influences the people around us, the environment and ourselves.

So why don't we stop turning around in circles and cut to the core now?

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