Why it’s lonely at the top…. part 1

01 Mar

Being a CEO is a role that people try to conceptualize, but will never understand until they sit in the chair. It’s a bit like parenthood, until you have kids, you will never understand it.

Based on my experiences in the chair and from sharing with fellow CEO’s, here is a list of do’s and dont’s for CEOs that on the one hand make them effective in their role but on the other hand, lonely.

1. The Open Door Policy
Yes, I am a firm advocate of an open door policy. Anyone and everyone should be welcome into the CEO’s room or access to the CEO, after all that is a fundamental premise of servant leadership.

The open door policy is a policy to allow information to flow up, for the CEO to hear what’s happening on the ground. It is not a policy for information to flow down. I will listen, I will note , I will act on it but that’s where the conversation stop.

You may have many things to say, but the open door is not for you to say but for you to listen.

2. Sharing Information
Information in organizations is like money in the economy. He who has more information is richer, looked up upon, has leverage and power. He who has not, is a pauper.

CEO’s have to ensure that he is consistently redistributing information, ensuring that “everyone” has the same. Now “everyone” may be everyone on the leadership team or everyone who is in a department or branch or whatever the homogenous grouping that needs the information.

Sharing on a one on one basis or with a select group of people is risky and the one or select group who benefits from the sharing very quickly becomes part of the inner circle.

Just like the economy, where the is fair distribution of wealth, there is prosperity, productivity and a feeling of well being. Where there is inequality in the distribution, you will find crime, gangs, dereliction and in the worst instances revolt.

You may have many things to say, but sharing means saying the same to everyone,

3. The Nostradamus Effect
CEO’s must absolutely be thinking many steps ahead, a bit like playing chess. He must have a clear view of what his business and organization should look like in the next 12 – 36 months. In his mind he should have broad strokes of the steps he will have to take to get to his destination.

By having that clarity of purpose in his mind, he is able to surely move the organization forward and it give the organization a sense of security that although changes maybe happening there is confidence and certainly in the direction.

More importantly, is by having this clarity, it gives the CEO an incredible ability to prepare the organization for each step of the change. Now people may not at that time understand why, but very quickly will see the rational.

What the CEO cannot and must not do is to reveal all in detail to a select few or even to the whole organization. He just needs to keep reiterating the end goal and lead them there step by step.

It truly is a huge challenge to have such clarity in ones mind but have to lock ones mouth to stop all from spewing out.

Why is this so important? People can buy into an end state and people can rally behind step moves, but people get overwhelmed and paralyzed if if they see the whole picture. Not because they are incapable, but because in looking at any picture, people always look for how it affects them, and when they cannot see it, they take a defensive posture. Then it becomes an up hill battle. You win the war by winning many small battles.

You may have many thing to say, but Nostradamus means saying just enough to stretch people but not scare them.

4. No Friends
This is one of the hardest things to do. While growing up in an organization we cultivate many many friendships but the minute we step into the CEO chair, those friendships get put on hold and become professional relationships.

The degree of objectivity needed to manage performance in todays environment, demands that decision on performance be made on merit and not friendship. And unless we are able to adjust our friendships into professional relationships, we risk being surrounded by people who care for us so much that they will manage our perceptions of reality to only see a rosy picture.

You may have many things to say, but you can only say the things you mean.

5. Walking the Talk
A CEO is judged not by the promises he makes but by the promises he keeps. This is what “Walk the Talk” is all about. When there is high trust in the organization, I will assure you that you will find at the top a CEO who walks the talk. When the is low trust or distrust, I will guarantee you that you will a CEO that is all talk and no walk.

So we must make sure we only say what we can deliver. No more, no less.

6. Decorum
As much as it is hard for us in positions of power to accept, everything that happens down in the organization is a reflection of how we are leading at the top. Everything we say or don’t say, we do or don’t do is being read into. A CEO has no where to hide. Decorum is so important.

We may be funny but we are not paid to be a clown
We may be artistic but we are not paid to be a painter
We may be a singer but we are not paid to be a singer

We sing, we paint, we joke, everything we do, the organization reads into its own context, but the only thing that matters is, are we delivering the results, because that is what we are paid for and that is what our reputations rest on.

Irrespective of what our talents are, decorum and delivering results rules the day.

to be continued….

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Posted by on March 1, 2007 in Leadership


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