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The Alchemy of Leadership Blog

Keep it Cool

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How does the CEO keep her cool in the heat of battle? There’s a lot on her plate. Any Chief Executive, particularly a new Chief Executive, has to think about the direction the business is going in, sales & marketing, the reaction of the Board to the latest operational problem (there are always operational problems), the biggest competitor’s newest product announcement, the Finance Director’s gloomy forecast for interest cover, penetration of new markets, cost control and on and on. Everything is always happening at once. One of the great joys of the top job is that you get the whole business to run, rather than just a division or function. It’s also one of the great challenges of the top job.

Being a CEO is a full-on job. The pressure rises in a turnaround situation when the business is not performing to plan. When things are going wrong, energy levels (usually) go up, but so does the risk of chaos. Keeping everyone moving in (roughly) the same direction becomes an even bigger challenge.

So, how to cope? How do you stay sane in the midst of all the madness while providing inspirational, positive leadership to the team? One way is to divide up the challenges and opportunities into three categories:

    • Strategy – how the business creates value and beats the competition
    • Execution – delivering the strategy effectively and efficiently
    • People – developing and getting the best from the people in the business.


Whenever I start a senior role at a business, whether running a piece of it or all of it, I’ve created a list of problems and opportunities, and actions to address the problems and take advantage of the opportunities. These actions have deadlines, owners and so on. I’m looking for the levers I can pull which will make a real difference to the business. I can only pull so many at once, so which ones should I choose?

I’ve found this list works better when I break it down into the three categories, at first at least. Thinking about Strategy-Execution-People (SEP) helps me make clear, well-reasoned decisions, particularly when there’s a lot going on.

Business leaders have a lot to think about and it’s not always easy to maintain clarity. This was one of the inspirations behind the School for CEOs, where we help current and future leaders prepare for and perform in senior positions within their company. Working with experienced business leaders, delegates learn how to succeed from people who have already been there. One of the hottest topics we talk about is keeping your cool, with the help of SEP.

© Patrick Macdonald 2016

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