CEOs and egos

I was a little surprised to read this at the egonomics blog. (The blog’s a recent discovery it looks good.)

“You can’t ever suggest that any decision made by the chief executive in the past was wrong,” marketing guru Al Ries recently told us. “You can’t get to be a chief executive or a CEO without a powerful ego. And people with powerful egos will never, ever admit they made a mistake. How then can you sell a new strategy unless you can convince the company that their previous strategy was wrong? You first have to tell them that their strategy was ‘right for its time.’ But today, times have changed; therefore their strategy has to change. No CEO has ever told me that he or she has ever made a mistake.”

Assuming Al’s not been quoted wrongly or I’ve misunderstood the context, I have three responses:

1 This isn’t my experience of CEOs. I find them as multidimensional as the rest of us mortals.

2 Personally, if I were a CEO I’d be wary of taking advice from a consultant who professes a professional commitment to placating my ego.

3 I idly wonder if Al has reflected on whether there may be other explanations for his never having heard a CEO admit to a mistake.

7 thoughts on “CEOs and egos

  1. Jack Yan

    Interesting. I know Americans have had an era of “celebrity CEOs”, who perhaps should not have been elevated to their positions by the technocracy, but, like you, I can’t help thinking Al doesn’t truly believe the above—or that he was quoted out of context, perhaps referring to some specific cases.

  2. steve smith


    First, thanks for noticing our blog and making it the subject of your post. I hope you find what we’re writing about valuable.

    Second, Al was quoted in context. But I will say that I think his message was meant more as an overall observation about CEOs of large, public corporations than smaller, private companies. I believe his comment was more in the spirit of probabilites than absolutes.

    For what it’s worth. And thanks again. Best of luck to you and your good work.


  3. Shawn Callahan

    Hi Johnnie, I have an additional concern. It sounds like Al’s approach is based on an expert coming and advising them about which strategic direction to take. My experience of strategy development would suggest that the expert/recommendation model is the worst approach. A participatory one where the CEO and everyone else who can make a difference work out for themselves the strategic direction is a far more powerful approach.

  4. Johnnie Moore

    Thanks for the comments. I think the main thing here is to affirm the importance of being willing to take risks and challenge those in power, and not to exaggerate the dangers of doing so.


    More on Why Ego Gets in the Way

    Johnnie Moore has an interesting take on an egonomics post which quotes Al Ries’ saying CEOs can’t admit mistakes; Johnny interprets that to mean that we mere mortals have to placate them and that he’s never experienced that. Johnny is


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