The Top Trait Every CEO Must Have

You can’t run a successful company without it. I can’t do my job turning companies around without it. And once it’s lost, it can be almost impossible to get it back.

I’m talking about credibility. Every CEO must have that – with his employees, his board, his customers, his investors and his employees. And he must guard and protect it as a valuable asset.

As Warren Buffett said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

I urge every CEO I work with and every company’s senior management to maintain a high level of credibility. The consequences if they don’t can be catastrophic.

I once replaced a very smart man, who was CEO of a company that manufactured electronics parts. Despite the fact he had a PhD, he wasn’t too smart when it came to running his business. Upon reviewing his numbers one day he found some cost accounting discrepancies and realized he was selling his primary widget under cost. Instead of having a $1 million profit as anticipated, the company actually had a $2 million loss.

Rather than admit his mistakes, he just adjusted his prices. His customers weren’t thrilled with the unexpected and unexplained 50 percent price increase he put on that widget and fled. Faced with more losses, the bank soon noticed he wasn’t able to repay his loans and gave him the boot as well. We were brought in late in the process, and were able to sell the company and repay the lender and creditor. But the business lost $8 million in equity.

Had the CEO come clean about the mistake, been honest with his bank and his customers, he could have avoided the losses his ego cost him. He wasn’t. And he didn’t. His credibility was shot.

Through no action of my own, I almost suffered the same fate at a company I has hired to assess prior to becoming the director of reorganization. The president of that company didn’t like the fact I was doing an assessment of the company and wanted me to keep out of his business. So he decided to destroy my credibility.

How did he do that? The chairman of the board gave me specific people to speak with about certain issues. So the president told senior staff members I had already made up my mind about how I would restructure each of their divisions. That was untrue, of course, as I always speak openly with people and listen to their thoughts before making any decisions. But in their minds I was just wasting their time.

Thankfully, with the help of another senior staff member, I was able to salvage that situation.

An article in Forbes, “The Three Qualities a CEO Must Have to Success” addresses the issue of credibility and how critical it is to success.

“CEOs who lose credibility can never regain it. When you communicate, do people believe that you are telling them the objective truth? If they do, then you have credibility. To maintain credibility, you have to tell the truth 100 percent of the time. Telling the truth 90 percent of the time is not much better than telling the truth 10 percent of the time. It only takes a few instances of delivering non-credible statements to totally lose your credibility. Once you lose your credibility, you cannot lead successfully.”

My book, How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEO’s Mistakes, is now available as an ebook.

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