Managing the Future

As Boeing’s high-profile crisis continues, I’ve been reading Peter Robison’s book on the company, Flying Blind.

One passage struck me as resonant of an issue I see CEOs struggle with almost universally. Discussing Boeing’s priorities in the 2000s, Robison writes:

Boeing’s incentive structure practically guaranteed [creating risk]. The compensation of McNerney, Luttig, and other top executives was tied to boosting free cash flow and the net return from assets on hand—the sort of metrics that tend to favor investors over employees and customers.

Robison points out that back in the 1990s, executive performance had been tied to more balanced measurements. These included earnings from operations as well as customer and employee satisfaction metrics. But by 2007, executives were encouraged to focus primarily on one metric: “optimizing net assets.” The company specified how this could be done: “through more efficient process, cost containment and minimized inventory.”

Boeing of course continued to give lip service to the importance of its workforce and its customers, but when it came down to how top leaders made their money?

There, the priority was clear and singular: shareholders mattered most.

You don’t need an MBA to connect the dots between this orientation and the high-profile failures that have tarnished Boeing’s reputation as a brand and employer. Many have pointed to Boeing’s 1997 merger with McDonnell Douglas as when this shift took hold, with the latter company’s cost-saving culture taking root across the new organization.

This disastrous path could have been averted, I believe, had Boeing leadership internalized a better mental model of a business. Fundamentally, a CEO and leadership team must balance the interests of three core groups within the business:

  • Customers

  • Employees

  • Shareholders

To have a sustainable business, you must consistently provide value to each of these groups. Each would prefer to have more resources and attention than the others, but the job of the CEO is to not let any one of them take precedence. Only when equilibrium is achieved can a business thrive.

Unfortunately, it’s common to see organizations place one group above the others, sometimes explicitly. Boeing’s shareholder-first mindset is common, but you also see companies that boast of being “customer-first” or “employee-first.” When these mantras drive decisions, the whole operation becomes unbalanced, lopsided, ineffective. It starts to look like a general practitioner who only optimizes the liver, or a parent of three who gives all the attention to one child.

Not understanding the inherent tensions between these three groups is a common, critical mistake CEOs make. We’re seeing it play out on an epic scale at Boeing, but many smaller and less remarked-upon business failures stem from the same root cause.

The Rundown - 35th Edition

Caramel Macchi-Uh-Oh!

As trouble brews at Starbucks, are their customers feeling the crunch?

ISM and Inflation

The manufacturing industry shrinks again—and faces still-rising costs.

I Promise We Are Not in a Recession

Janet Yellen’s take on the economy feels slightly out of step.

Click Here to Get the Full Rundown

READ TIME: 3m, 36s

Want to get more from executive coaching?

 I am a big proponent of executive coaching, but some CEOs find that the typical coaching approach isn’t meeting their needs. In some cases, the CEO doesn’t need the reactive support the usual coach provides; instead, they would benefit more from proactive frameworks and tools they can apply right away.

If that resonates with you, let’s chat. I founded the Chief Executive Operating System to offer CEOs the kind of proven, practical support — including frameworks, learning, and software — that supplements or replaces the traditional executive coach.

“Every time you make the hard, correct decision, you become a bit more courageous, and every time you make the easy, wrong decision, you become a bit more cowardly. If you are CEO, these choices will lead to a courageous or cowardly company.”

—Ben Horowitz


“Leadership is about making others feel better as a result of your presence—and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”

—Doris Kearns Goodwin


“The greatest achievement of good executives is to get things done through other people, not themselves.”

—Warren Buffett

Stat of the Week: Not So Lonely at the Top?

“Of the 2,200 companies that were listed in the S&P 1200 and the Russell 1000 from 1996 to 2020, fewer than 100 were led by co–chief executives.”

Among this small percentage of co-CEO-led companies, there were many notable failures. But there is also some evidence that, on average, these organizations performed better than single-CEO-led peers.

Would you take a co-CEO if you had the chance?

2024 Course Schedule

 For CEOs: Chief Executive Operating System (CEO-S) Course

Our flagship course in mastering the CEO role.

  • June 5–7, 2024

  • October 23–25, 2024

We also offer 2-day offsites for CEOs and their executive leadership teams. To learn more or schedule an ELT offsite, please email my CEO-S partner, Sherif Sakr:

For HR Leaders: Take Your Seat at the Table

A 2-day workshop for strategic HR leaders. Use code MTF for 50% off!

  • May 14–15, 2024

  • October 29–30, 2024

 For Managers: Free Management System Certification
Over one day, get certified in a proven system for management excellence.

  • May 21, 2024

  • June 18, 2024

Thanks for reading Managing the Future! Subscribe for free to get your edition biweekly.

Book a FREE 30-Minute Strategy Session with Joel Trammell

In this 1:1 call, we’ll get to know you, understand your goals, and explore the specific ways CEO-S can enhance your effectiveness and free up your time.