5 Common Mistakes CEOs Make

As the CEO, you’re responsible for everything.

A CEO serves as the public face of your company, liaise between the board of directors and employees, and make sure your team feels heard and happy.

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For better or worse, your decisions impact every aspect of the business, from the bottom line to employee happiness.

My experience as the CEO of ShipChain has made me realize the importance of prioritizing your long-term vision over short-term profit.

Take Sears, an innovator, an industry “disruptor”, and dominant market force thanks to its mail-order catalog. You could even argue that it pioneered the direct-to-consumer shipping model we’re seeing in the market today. Sears could’ve been the world’s leading e-commerce company… there’s no reason why it couldn’t have been as big as Amazon. But the executives ignored the importance of the internet, and today, an American icon is tragically going bankrupt after being in business for more than a century.

5 Common CEO Mistakes

While not every misstep you make will lead to bankruptcy, each bad decision can cause the company’s reputation to take a hit.

To direct a thriving company as a CEO in any industry, here are five common mistakes to avoid:

  1. Not Knowing When To Delegate

Executives often fall for the trap of trying to do everything themselves.

After all, you can probably complete a task faster and cheaper than anyone else, and you trust yourself to do it correctly.

But unless your company is in its infancy, getting involved in the day-to-day activities is actually more of a hindrance than a help. When you’re stuck in the weeds, you don’t have the time or mental clarity to focus on your business’s core vision.

If you’re like most CEOs, you’ve achieved success due to your work ethic and strong personality. But you have to be willing to step back and accept the reality that you can’t do everything and effectively guide the company at the same time.

In a growing company, your job is to set the tone and manage the C-level. Your job is not do the books or write the code. Hire an accountant to help with the numbers, pay a programmer to do the coding.

Delegating isn’t an option—it’s a necessity.

  1. Not Recognizing That Your Expense Costs Aren’t Everything

Everyone wants to improve their bottom line, but you need to be strategic about which costs you try to cut.

Think about mail consolidators, the third-party companies that the U.S. Postal Service hires to sort some of its mail. While mail consolidators do save the USPS 5-7%, this isn’t the whole story. Adding in a middleman means the mail takes twice as long to deliver this mail (on average) when compared to first class mail.

And in the age of Amazon Prime, most customers are not happy about waiting an extra few days for anything.

On the surface, saving 5-7% sounds great. But in the long run, trimming expenses without maintaining quality and efficiency will cost you more in refunds and disgruntled customers, not to mention the harm to your brand identity and reputation.

Don’t cut costs without thinking about how it will impact your brand.

  1. Always think in the long-term

Building a brand doesn’t happen overnight, and you have to always train one eye toward the future in order to be competitive.

I admit I’ve been guilty of getting so engrossed in the short term that I lose sight of my company’s long-term vision. But when you’re not looking ahead, you’re like a horse wearing blinders. You see only three feet in front of you instead of the entire horizon.

And this is a huge problem. Not only will you have difficulty solving problems, but you won’t be able to figure out what the problem is in the first place.

I studied physics in college, and the professors of my upper-level classes didn’t simply give me an equation to solve. Instead, I had to figure out what the problem itself was before I could apply an equation to it. Then eventually I would solve it.

Isaac Newton didn’t just define gravity: he had to figure out why the apple fell out of the tree in the first place.

Likewise, you have to think long term. You must anticipate and understand the problems facing your company and industry.

  1. Pay your people well

Many leaders commoditize human labor.

Instead of paying a little more for the best people, they accept high employee turnover. But the more turnover you have, the more you have to pay for training. Worse yet, you’ll earn a reputation for treating your workers poorly.

Besides paying your employees more, you should show them you care about what they do. If I ran a trucking company, for instance, I’d get my commercial drivers license. I’d prove that I really enjoy the freight movement and respect the amount of work my employees put it.

People are everything, and creating a positive work environment is key to any thriving company.

  1. Never blame your team

As a CEO, you have to accept responsibility—even if something’s not your fault.

In the logistics world, parcels get lost or damaged and vendors don’t deliver on time. Trucks crash, destroying the containers and their contents. Between shippers, carriers, and customers, there’s a lot of finger pointing when something goes wrong.

But this is par for the course. There’s always a risk with using a third-party intermediary or driving on a public road. As CEO, you have to communicate this reality to your customers in a graceful way.

If you take responsibility for errors and never blame your team, both customers and employees will respect your authority.

If you avoid these five mistakes and keep your eye trained toward the future, you and your company will be well on your way to becoming the next Amazon, rather than the next Sears.

John Monarch graduated from Clemson in 2009 with a degree in physics and a minor in computer science. He founded the logistics and fulfillment company Direct Outbound in 2011, which focused on providing shipping and call center support for companies in the world of e-commerce. In 2012 he also founded Conexus, as a company that focuses on helping businesses optimize their online presence and branding. Currently, he is the CEO of ShipChain.

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  • Originally published December 30, 2018, updated April 26, 2023