CEO Roundtables have many interesting conversations but the best ones explore the balance between conflicting priorities. People often seek the right answer but CEOs realize that most decisions are a balancing act between conflicting priorities. There are very few right-or-wrong answers that surface for a CEO because if it were that easy someone would have made the decision. The CEO gets the ones without clear answers where the solution is often a negotiation between different agendas in the business.
A classic conflict that CEOs wrestle with all the time is the short versus long term. On the short side you have to be concerned with making the next sale, payroll, or a hundred other transactional items. On the long term strategy are investments in innovation that might take years to flow through to the P&L or balance sheet. Personally I can remember a decision that I made very deliberately that was a great short term decision resulting in immediate profits that was the major contributing factor that lead to the ultimate failure of the business. It made sense at the time the decision was made but it was a long term disaster.
There are many ways to improve the profits of a business but most fall into either increase revenue or reduce costs. These are in constant conflict because at the most fundamental level you have to spend money to make money. Some people are overly focused on cost savings and can literally save you out of business. On the other hand a singular focus on revenue increase without consideration of the cost can also shut your doors with unprofitable sales. The secret is somewhere between these two extremes and CEO’s are very aware of the balancing act between these concepts.
Another of the classic conflicts is the personal and professional demands on the time of the CEO. On one side of this is the demands from the business from a workflow that never ends and can easily consume any person. On the other side CEOs have the demands on their time from family, spouses, children, and aging parents, just to name a few. Again a time demand that can easily consume the entire schedule of the CEO.
It is my observation that CEOs are artists at balancing conflicts across the entire organization, the market place, and their personal lives. They do not do this perfectly but they are often the only one that can make the final call because there is nobody else to kick it up to.