When you can’t go to the CEO, where do you go?

By TEC Chair, Dawn Russell

Succession-planning-key-executivesAs a key executive in an organisation, you want to make your mark. You want to contribute significantly to the overall mission and growth of the organisation and earn the respect of the CEO or Managing Director, as well as the respect of the people who report to you.

Chances are you’ll be shouldering considerable responsibility and making decisions that affect the future of the organisation and the lives of the people who work with you. And, as with any leadership position, there are always challenges.   The thing is, you can’t go running to the CEO every time there’s an issue. To start with, they’re more than busy enough without having to weigh into your issues; and secondly, what aspiring leader wants to be seen as incapable of handling situations that leaders face every day?

Perhaps you have a prickly staff member whose performance has dropped significantly over the last six months and you need to tackle an honest conversation with them. Perhaps you have a progressive idea for meeting your sales target, but want to test its robustness before you pitch it higher up. Perhaps one of your peers is making it difficult for your team to deliver to the expected standard and you need to “call” their behaviour. Or perhaps there’s a new process that is impacting negatively on your department, but challenging it is politically sensitive because its owner has the ear of the CEO.

Whatever the issue, you need a sounding board. As an influential CEO once said to me, “The worst decision I ever made was the one made by a committee of one – me!”

You need someone (or several someones) who will challenge your thinking and play Devil’s Advocate to help you see things from a different perspective. You need to tap into others’ experience when you’re faced with a situation you’ve never encountered before. It makes sense to call on the wisdom of others. The trouble is, whose wisdom do you call on?

You may decide to talk it through with your significant other or a family member. They may or may not have the necessary business acumen, but two things are for sure: they want you to succeed and they don’t want you to get hurt. But the trouble is, they have a natural bias. And because they love you, frequently they won’t tell you it the way it really is. They don’t want to hurt you; they don’t want to hurt your feelings. As a result, they’re not likely to really challenge your thinking or look for the flaws in your argument.

Alternately, you may feel safe enough bouncing ideas around with your colleagues…until the day something confidential finds it way into the greater populace at work, or until your idea is served up to the CEO by someone else as their own. And what will they think of you if you keep going to them for advice?

You may chat to your friends and mates outside of work about it, but do they really understand your role, your industry, your politics or the particular sensitivity of the issue? Besides, you won’t be considered such good company if they have to listen to you talking about work all the time!

Being in a leadership position is a challenge and it can be isolating. It’s also very easy to miss opportunities or reap a sub-optimal result when decisions are made by that “committee of one”. We are often best served by bouncing ideas around with others, but when you can’t go to the CEO, where do you go?

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