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Are You Too Closed Off as CEO?

Are You Too Closed Off as CEO?

One of the great ironies of becoming an executive is that as you rise to the top of an organization, you slowly become disconnected from its inner workings.

It’s almost impossible to notice. You’re likely working hard, spending your days at your desk or in meetings. When was the last time you escaped the top floor to eat in the cafeteria, or chatted in a downtime Slack room? If you’re like most CEOs, rarely, if ever.

That’s the problem.

A common CEO blind spot our coaches see is inadequate insights from their team. “Once you migrate to the top of an organization, everything you’re hearing goes through a filter,” says coach and former aerospace executive Alan Caslavka. “I had seven layers below me at GE. With 3,500 people in my organization, you can imagine how an entry-level person or even a first-level manager felt trying to communicate with me.”

Here’s how you can better connect with your organization, according to our coaches:

1. Find team members who aren’t afraid to challenge you

No matter what you sell, your success comes down to people.

As CEO, the people you surround yourself with matter. Whether it’s your direct team or more informal advisors and coaches, find a space where you’re not the smartest or most successful person in the room. “Many of us have an inner circle of trusted advisors,” says Caslavka. “But often, these can be ‘yes’ men or women. And frankly, they may not have all of the resources or context they need to assist you with making a decision.”

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Think about the five people you spend the most time with professionally — are those people pushing you to be your best?

You need a team of people that aren’t afraid to speak their minds and challenge you, even if you’re the boss. They need to feel supported and encouraged to do so — and feel secure in that you won’t retaliate if they make a mistake.

2. Surround yourself with diverse perspectives

Similarly, within your core team and throughout your organization, it’s important to prioritize diverse perspectives. Surrounding yourself with people who look, act, and think like you only serves to create an even bigger blind spot around your company goals. The more diverse you can make your team, the more likely you’ll be able to problem-solve in an innovative way.

In fact, multiple research studies have shown that diversity leads to high performance. According to McKinsey, companies with the most gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability, while companies with the most ethnic and racial diversity were 36% more likely to have above-average profitability.

3. Set up two-way communication for more junior employees

You probably already have a meeting cadence with your immediate executive team. But beyond the occasional town hall, how do you hear from your more junior employees? Says Caslavka, “Lower levels of the organization often don’t get recognized. In my prior organization, we actually had meetings where we brought in first- and second-level employees every month to surface issues. It was a great forum to identify our weaknesses and see the current dynamics going on in our organization.”

You have a few options to open up communication internally. On a regular basis, you can:

  • Do a “speed dating” style event discussing company issues with multiple executives
  • Set up career and company conversations with classes of new hires or certain subgroups
  • Monitor an anonymous Slack channel or google feedback form on company policies, products, or other problems you’re trying to solve
  • Offer 1:1 informal “coffee” meeting slots for employees to sign up for on specific days
  • Offer formal “elevator pitches” for employees with innovative ideas (bonus points if you do this in the actual elevator)
  • Walk the halls or manufacturing buildings to get a pulse on company morale
  • Take part in company-wide events beyond your executive team, such as volunteering, spirit days, or other networking opportunities

It’s important to take time to understand what’s going on in your company, but also to solicit feedback and insights from people spending their days directly with customers or the product. Says coach Jaime Cohen Szulc, “There is always a segment who is executing growth drivers of the business much better than the rest. Find the people and areas of your business that are performing and use them as centers of excellence to replicate their ways of working across the organization. This is usually an inexpensive and motivational way to re-energize growth.”

4. Get outside your company for insights

To shake off CEO isolation, find connections outside of your company (or even outside your industry) for insights. “Most of the ‘best in class’ players in a given area are often outside your radar screen,” says Szulc. “When I was at Goodyear, we found the ‘best in class’ manufacturing and supply chain operating system was really coming from a company in the textile industry.”

This doesn’t mean you have to go searching. You can:

  • Join a peer-to-peer networking group
  • Subscribe to newsletters, podcasts, and other content outside your industry
  • Start a customer or partner council
  • Pay attention to media and analysts
  • Read widely, not just business-related nonfiction

“New innovations may be coming into the market, and you may be focused on your customers and your business and never see it coming,” says Caslavka. “It’s critically important that the CEO has their fingers on the pulse of what’s going on with regulators, customers, and the community.”

5. Use a coach to see through your blind spots

The phrase “It’s lonely at the top” doesn’t have to define your executive experience. While many CEOs often feel the weight of the company on their shoulders, they don’t have to bear that responsibility alone.

“Being the boss can be isolating,” says coach Meghan Watkins. “You have to make unpopular decisions and let go of good people who are not growing with the company for whatever reason. You have to resist the urge to share everything with your team. The loneliness becomes more manageable if you have a coach you trust to share your worries, frustrations, and challenges.”

Working with a CEO coach allows you to identify your blind spots and think outside your daily grind. Whether you’re looking for the next phase of growth, contemplating a major staffing or structural change, or finding ways to break out of a plateau, a CEO coach can be a set of experienced eyes to help you navigate whatever challenge comes your way.

Our expert coaches have years of experience with executive leadership and have been in your shoes before. If you have questions or just want to connect with someone who knows what you’re going through, schedule a complimentary, no-obligation coaching session today.

See how CEO Coaching International can help open up the possibilities >

About CEO Coaching International

CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 53.5% during their time as a client, more than three times the U.S. average, and a revenue CAGR of 26.2%, nearly twice the U.S. average.

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