Mastering execution: Why having the right person at the top isn’t enough

Mastering execution: Why having the right person at the top isn’t enough

/ 02:02 AM June 03, 2024

Mastering execution: Why having the right person at the top isn’t enough


We always tell our clients: “Execution is king.” Execution is the engine that drives success. But here’s the catch—execution doesn’t magically take care of itself, even with the right person at the top.

For top executives, CEOs and business owners, it’s crucial to understand that leadership sets the direction, then it’s follow-through and systems that make sure things get done.


Consistent follow-up and accountability

I always compare this to Formula 1. To win, you need a world-class driver and the best car. In a corporate setting, this means the best people and the best systems. As James Clear put it: “You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.”


One of our clients, a wealthy entrepreneur from California with businesses in over 11 industries, always had the illusion that if he just found a great driver for his next new venture, all would resolve itself. It caused him a lot of pain and suffering and lost millions in profits till we explained to him that he needs the top driver and the best car.

We have seen this scenario again and again with our clients all over the world—they have a brilliant vision for your company. They may have assembled a topnotch team, and they are ready to conquer the market.

But then, despite all the talent and resources at their disposal, things start to stall. Deadlines are missed; projects fall through the cracks, and morale begins to wane. What went wrong?

The truth is, having the right person at the top is just the beginning. While strong leadership sets the tone and provides guidance, it’s the consistent follow-up and accountability that ensure the vision becomes a reality.

Even the most talented leaders can’t do it all alone. Execution requires a team effort, with everyone pulling in the same direction.

You conduct the orchestra

Steve Jobs famously said, “Musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra.” Imagine a symphony orchestra with a brilliant conductor. The conductor may be incredibly skilled, but without talented musicians who know their parts and play them well, the performance will fall flat. Similarly, in business, execution requires a cohesive team working together harmoniously.


And it requires clear systems and processes for follow-ups. Just as in music, the orchestra plays together using scores and notes and harmonies to stay in synch and make wonderful music.

Having the right person at the top doesn’t guarantee that the right systems and processes are in place to support execution. Effective execution requires more than just good intentions; it requires structure, discipline and accountability.

Follow-up isn’t about micromanagement

Think of it this way: a ship captain may be an experienced navigator, but without a well-maintained vessel and a competent crew, the journey will encounter obstacles and setbacks. Likewise, in business, execution requires robust systems for planning, monitoring and course correction.

Follow-up isn’t about micromanagement or hovering over your team’s shoulders. It’s about providing support, guidance and resources to enable them to succeed. It’s about being proactive rather than reactive, anticipating challenges before they become problems.

Moreover, follow-up is a way of demonstrating your commitment to execution. Actions speak louder than words, and when your team sees that you take execution seriously, they will be more likely to prioritize it as well.

Prominent examples of top leaders who follow-up:

1. Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo)

During her tenure as CEO of PepsiCo, Nooyi was renowned for her disciplined approach to follow-up. She implemented regular performance reviews and accountability measures to ensure that the company’s strategic objectives were being met. She also emphasized the importance of communication and transparency, fostering a culture where feedback and follow-up were valued at all levels of the organization.

2. Mary Barra (General Motors)

As the CEO of General Motors, Barra has implemented robust follow-up processes to drive execution and accountability within the company. She emphasizes the importance of data-driven decision-making and regularly reviews key performance indicators to track progress toward strategic goals. Barra’s hands-on leadership style and commitment to follow-up have been credited with driving GM’s turnaround and positioning the company for future success.

3. Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway)

Buffett is known for his patient, long-term approach to investing and his emphasis on value creation. He follows up diligently on the companies in Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio, holding management teams accountable for delivering consistent performance over time. Buffett’s disciplined follow-up has enabled Berkshire to generate superior returns for its shareholders and build a reputation as one of the world’s most successful conglomerates.

When Buffett started a new reinsurance business, he got a leader on board who had no prior knowledge in that area. By spending an hour on the phone with this new hire every day, Buffett managed to steer the business in the right direction. This reinsurance business is now a multi-billion dollar giant in its industry.

These examples illustrate how effective follow-up can drive success in business, regardless of the industry or size of the organization. By prioritizing execution and holding themselves and their teams accountable, these business owners have achieved remarkable results.

Negative consequences

Failing to engage in effective follow-up with employees after setting goals and targets can have below negative consequences for both the company and the business owner— missed revenue opportunities; slower project completion times; increased costs; missed opportunities for course correction, loss of time; wasted investments; and decreased accountability.

Address issues early on

Effective follow-up is essential for ensuring accountability, identifying and addressing issues early on, fostering trust and confidence among employees, allocating resources efficiently, and maintaining a positive organizational culture. Failing to engage in effective follow-up can have serious consequences for both the company and the business owner, ultimately impacting performance, growth and long-term success.

Failing to engage in effective follow-up with employees can have significant negative consequences for a company’s profitability, including missed revenue opportunities, decreased productivity, increased costs, wasted investments, high turnover costs and damage to reputation. By prioritizing regular follow-up and support for employees, you can mitigate these risks and ensure long-term profitability and success. INQ

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Tom Oliver, a “global management guru” (Bloomberg), is the chair of The Tom Oliver Group, the trusted advisor and counselor to many of the world’s most influential family businesses, medium-sized enterprises, market leaders and global conglomerates. For more information and inquiries: or email [email protected].

TAGS: Business, Tom Oliver

© Copyright 1997-2024 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.