The 3 Wishes of the CEO . . .


And the Genie said, “I will grant you three wishes, and you can’t wish for more wishes, so choose wisely!”

Across the globe nearly everyone knows the story of the Genie and the three wishes. Each culture tends to have its own set of characters and circumstances (Sinbad and the Genie, the Merchant and the Genie, the fisherman and the Genie, etc.), but the actions of the wisher and the moral of the fables tend to be similar.  Don’t waste your wishes on frivolous things that really don’t deliver happiness or good fortune.

While I don’t have a magic lantern with a Genie inside who grants wishes, I often ask the CEOs I work with what are the three things that keep them up night after night and that they wish they could fix in their business?  While I occasionally get a few flippant responses, such as “a billion dollars in the bank” or “more customers”, more often than not the same three concerns tend to be at the core of their wishes.

1.    Senior Team Alignment

The first is how to get the senior team to work better together, collaborate and focus on delivering the overall business strategy. Many senior teams are not really teams, but collections of highly talented functional super stars that tend to focus most of their time on their functional silos and little time on collectively driving the company strategy forward.

Figure 2

This non-team behaviour often results in lack of resource sharing, hoarding information, lack of transparency, blaming others, squabbles over limited internal resources and budget battles. The CEO just wants to get everyone on the same page and working together to deliver the overall business objectives, since maximising individual functional objectives does not always lead to overall superior company performance. And the constant tension among the team tends to wear people down and has a negative impact on the morale of those below.

 And for a team that is working well together, whenever one or more new players are recruited in, the positive team dynamic often becomes negatively impacted. Most CEOs don’t have a trusted process or robust intervention that can quickly rebuild the team alignment and collective focus.

 2.    Culture as a Business Risk

The second concern is that the current corporate culture may contain significant risk to the business. A good example is the current culture within many global banks that has allowed significant and sometimes widespread instances of fraud, “casino behavior” and unethical business dealings. Other examples include the “profit-centric and cost-control” culture at BP that led to unsafe behaviours and ultimately the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig disaster with its loss of life and significant economic and ecological damage.

 The problem here is that many CEOs and senior executives don’t really know what their current cultural strengths and weaknesses are, and most don’t really understand what culture is, where it comes from, how it positively or negatively impacts performance, and how to shape or reshape corporate culture.

If you don’t understand your corporate culture, you don’t understand your business!

The risks inherent in a unguided corporate culture range from lack of competitive agility to fraudulent business activities that can bring down even the biggest of organisations.

 3.  Greater Employee Engagement and Accountability in Execution

The third is how to create better alignment for executing business and strategic objectives. Every CEO realizes that employee engagement and loyalty are currently at all time lows and unengaged (either actively or passively) employees are not fully productive. In addition, innovation and customer service suffers. Also, unengaged employees are more resistant to change and less agile when external market circumstances call for changes in the business. How to increase engagement and improve the ability of the organisation to execute on its strategy is a key CEO concern.

In most cases, lack of execution is the result of a lack of process and process discipline. In fact, those companies with a robust and disciplined “strategy execution process”, that includes employee communication and engagement as well as frequent governance and progress transparency, tend to outperform companies lacking such a process.  Having clear objectives is important, but having a robust execution process is the key to execution and delivery.

Figure 2

From Wishes to Actions

Every problem has a solution, given enough determination and courage.

While the wishes granted by the Genie are a fable, these three major concerns of the CEO can be turned into launching ramps for improved performance with the right understanding, information, processes and discipline.  All that is left is the courage of leadership.

Thanks for joining the conversation.

John R Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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