27 July 2022

Here’s a shout out to the people who endure CEOs and Founders

Why? Because it can be hell. Not just for the people working with these CEOs and Founders, but those leaders themselves.

And it’s more common than it should be.

Recently it has become apparent that the world of leading any organisation is getting more complex than at any time in history. There are many reasons for this such as the speed of change, IT challenges, Climate change, and that’s enough for now. Complexity is not going away.

Plus there is something else I’m pondering. The Western, Eurocentric business models are no longer fit for purpose, either at Ownership, Managerial, or Governance levels.

I’m hearing from very capable CEOs that their stress levels are rising even when they are well resourced due to the extent and breadth of their responsibilities and what they need to keep abreast of. The enjoyment factor is dropping. This is only going to get worse. These CEOs are concerned.

Then there are the less personally well-resourced Founders like myself who are also struggling. I say less well-resourced because from experience we didn’t apply for the job, as in qualified. Instead we had an idea we floated and others got on board. How often would a founder actually get employed if they turned up for the job of CEO of their own company? If there is a good Board in place, not often.

However, this blog is about the multitude of people who have to cope with the fall out of these CEOs and Founders, who while shouldering so much responsibility, can cause dissatisfaction at best and misery for many.

What is going on, and why is it happening?
I’m seeing more and more often the team players not being promoted, instead their more ego-driven counterparts are moving forward. Plus I’m seeing the team players actually choosing not to be promoted because they know this will lead to less time with family, and work life balance going out the window. Leaving a void for the ego trippers.

And with Founders I’m seeing the usual hero worshipping which is just bloody dangerous. Yes Founders can be awesome and important for new stuff to be invented or started, but they achieve nothing by themselves.  Absolutely nothing. Self-made is a myth.

There’s one other angle I want to put into this mix. Just because your organisation is doing great work for the planet, community or whoever, it doesn’t exempt you from being an arse to others. Often I hear disgruntled team members of seemingly cool companies complaining about narcissistic leaders causing havoc behind the scenes, and I still get surprised by this.

So what’s the antidote?
This is a continuing trend of leaderships not delivering healthy productive outcomes for the teams that work with them?

If I could pick one game changer it would be the use of feedback in teams. Open and consistent feedback. Think the proverbial mirror.

This needs to come from the top and asked for. It then needs to be considered and reflected on, as transparently as possible. Remember not all feedback is accurate, but it is all information.

It is not constructive criticism – because no one wants to be criticised, and who says it’s constructive. Plus it doesn’t create a culture of sharing your vulnerabilities.

When delivered well feedback is just information. Nothing more or nothing less.

Everyone needs to be able to participate in this feedback activity on a continual basis, both giving and receiving. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Then what happens with the feedback is important – that would be reflection.
What gets in the way of feedback is often a fear of conflict or hierarchy. When conflict is not embraced and stepped into it can often lead to an explosion down the track.

Over the past month I have had 2 conflicts at work. One I needed to get in the car and go have a conversation, the other brought to me on the phone. Both sorted and new learnings and growth occurred as a result. If we hadn’t stepped up for the conversations it would be festering right now. But it’s not and we are tighter as a result.

This is part of the magic of our work at Collective Intelligence. Our members hold up mirrors for each other to have a look at their reflection in a safe and unbiased environment. It’s sometimes easier to do in this space of semi-strangers helping each other grow. But it shows it can be done.

The key is to be able to take this back to your work environment and build that feedback muscle.

From experience at our base camp the result can be a culture where many can have an influence on the future and direction of an organisation. Not just the leadership team. Remember not all the smarts are in that room.

Ian Harvey (Harv)


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