What the CEO Doesn't Know

September 22, 2021

Synchronicity arises when you notice a common theme reoccurring. This week on three separate occasions I found myself reading or discussing how many people significantly filter what they share up the management chain. By the time it gets to the CEO it is often only good news. This means that internal issues and external factors affecting the organization, industry and market may not be on his or her radar or he/she may be getting “fake news” about the impact it can have on the organization. How can someone in the most senior role make great decisions about new strategies or directions without great information? What happens when no one is willing to challenge your decisions? While you as the senior leader ultimately make and own the strategic decisions if you are not relying on accurate current, historical and future focused data the decisions may not be what the company truly needs.Why don’t most front line employees, middle managers and other executive team members provide a well rounded picture of their part of the kingdom? How can you make better decisions? The answer lies in one major change – openness. Are you visible and accessible to people and new ideas? Are you willing to be wrong and to admit mistakes?The keys to openness are vulnerability and trust so people know they can share information without negative outcomes. I’ve coached many senior executives who believe that they need to have all the answers and can’t appear vulnerable as that would be weak. This viewpoint is what limits your access to information and problems. Senior leaders need to be accessible to all types of people; employees, patients, customers, and those with opposing points of view. Be visible, round on employees and customers. Demonstrate an attitude of openness and curiosity by asking questions. Really listen to the answers. Speak last in meetings when you want to learn and establish rapport. Asking the right people the right questions will greatly expand your pool of knowledge. The HBR article Bursting the CEO Bubble provides a few provocative questions, below.Ask yourself these questions to see if you’re insulated from crucial ideas and information at work:

  1. How many barriers do people have to cross to talk directly with you?
  2. How quickly did you uncover your last mistake? How fast did you change course?
  3. How often do you talk with people who make you uncomfortable?
  4. How many questions do you ask versus statements do you make in typical conversations?
  5. How many times this week have you said “I don’t know” in response to a question?

Take time to reflect and to process on your lessons learned. See if these tips will help you be the CEO or senior leader who does know what’s happening and can courageously lead your organization forward.Partially adapted from Bursting the CEO Bubble Why Executives Should Talk Less and Ask More Questions By Hal Gregersen FROM HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW, MARCH–APRIL 2017 ISSUE P. 76-83

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