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Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Leadership Coach

9 CEO Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them | Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Madeleine is on the Board of Directors of The Ken Blanchard Companies and is a co-founder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine is a co-creator of the Coaching Management System, Blanchard’s proprietary software designed to help deliver coaching on a large scale in organizations.

Madeleine has 30 years of experience in the coaching profession and has deep understanding of working with organizations to leverage professional coaching, teach coaching skills to leaders and create a coaching culture.  She is the author of several coaching skills programs. As a coach she specializes in coaching creative geniuses.

Her books are Leverage Your; Ditch the Rest, and Coaching in Organizations, and Madeleine writes a weekly advice column Ask Madeleine.

9 CEO Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

    Being a leader is the perfect way to ensure that you face your own imperfections on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Being the top leader is utterly thankless. If things go well, people assume you are lucky.

     If things are go poorly, it’s all your fault.So how do CEOs deal with the discomfort of knowing they are constantly being judged and found wanting? Most find ways to be right even when they’re not. And many surround themselves with people who shore up their insecurities—which is the worst possible thing they can do.

    It can be really addictive to be the smartest person in the room and the one with the most power.But when you’re someone others have to follow,it’s easy to forget about trying to be someone others choose to follow.This, of course, lays the groundwork for the kind of hubris that can bring down the best.

There are some measures a CEO or senior executive can take to avoid these pitfalls. 


Every single person.Learn how they think and what is important to them.  Listen carefully to what they tell you. If they bother to tell you anything at all, be sure you pay attention.

I worked with one CEO whose board told him repeatedly that they needed him to take a specific action. It wasn’t convenient for him to comply, and he figured if he was really good at the job they would get over themselves. He was wrong. He didn’t last.

It is easy to underestimate how powerful people on the board can be, especially if they are quiet. The more you know every single person and give them a chance to know you, the better off you will be. 

This sounds so obvious—yet it happens so rarely. Commit to surrounding yourself with people who are at least as smart as you are, if not smarter.It is humbling, not to mention terrifying, to hire people who could potentially outshine you—yet most businesses need the intellectual horsepower on the executive to compete in today’s market place.


Make sure you have different perspectives and thinking styles on your team. Beware of anyone who automatically defers to you. If there isn’t some friendly conflict and debate, you need to ask yourself if you have the right team. If everyone on your executive team agrees all the time, you should be very suspicious.


Keep the conversation going about what everyone is learning and where they want to grow themselves. Share your own challenges. Make the conversation about learning and development normal, so that everyone on the team sees themselves and everyone else as fallible human beings instead of untouchable masters of the universe. This also creates an environment where every team member’s strengths can be recognized and leveraged. 


Spend quality time with your team, get to know them, and certainly be as authentic with them as possible. But know where the boundaries are. Set them and keep them.I once worked with a CEO who would get enamored with new hires and become very close friends with them.

He would socialize and text at all hours. As each new hire lowered their guard and began to think of their new CEO as a friend, he would begin to lose respect for the person and start finding fault with them.

He had no stomach for direct conflict so he would find ways to distance himself from the employee and eventually make it almost impossible for them to perform well so that the person could reasonably be fired. His team was in constant turmoil and drama.It was entertaining to the troops, but who wants to be the entertainment? 


The CEO from the previous example had a holdover pattern. When he was a more junior leader, it was behavior he could kind of get away with, but when he became top dog it was a pattern that cost him dearly. It took me awhile to see it as his coach, but finally it became clear. When I pointed out the pattern to the CEO, he had no interest in hearing it.

It is exhausting to control yourself and behave all day. It is easy to forget how much power you have. But the effect of one tiny lapse of self-control a heavy sigh, an eye roll, one little snarky remark can be regrettable. I’m not the coach who is going to tell you that you have to get 8 hours of sleep, exercise, meditate, and eat right to be a great CEO. But you do have to find one thing you can do to ensure you can self-regulate all day, every day.


There just will never be enough time to do everything that needs to be done, so you are going to have to get really picky. Just because you like to do something or are really good at it doesn’t mean you should be doing it.If there is any way someone else could be doing a task, somebody else should be doing it. Could you do it better? Maybe, but that only matters if better is critical to the task.That will leave you with a fairly short list of what you need to be attending to.It will still be 24/7 engagement, but at least you won’t drop balls or lose your mind.


It really is lonely at the top. The reason being a senior leader is so desperately difficult is that there isn’t anyone to look up to who can tell you what to do.Every decision will affect innumerable amounts of people. It is a massive responsibility.Find someone you trust and can talk to on a regular basis whose only agenda is your success. A spouse, a mentor, a coach, a chief of staff, an imaginary Yoda.Someone who will ask you the hard questions such as: Is this going to help achieve the goal?

Is this aligned with the stated values? Are you taking the high road here? Have you consulted the right people and really listened? What do you not want to see that you really should be looking at?

Did I say senior leadership is thankless? It bears repeating. The stakes are so high and everyone is watching. The only way to make the game worthwhile is to set yourself up to win at it.

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