11 Signs That You’re Breathing Your Own Exhaust

It’s vital to get input from the outside

The rarefied air of the C-suite is a wonderful and challenging place. Although there are certainly some narcissistic, power-hungry folks there, many in the executive ranks are bright, talented people who bring high value to the organizations they serve and the people they work with.

I spend many of my days working with this crowd, and there are some unique challenges for those in “power.” If you are one, you should be aware of an interesting, pervasive and dangerous condition — breathing your own exhaust.

Much like not noticing spinach in your front teeth without a mirror, it’s difficult to see, but you might be getting your leg pulled. Not necessarily for nefarious reasons; people want to impress you and make you happy. They tell you what you want to hear because you’re the one whose praise or criticism carries the most weight. Bereft of good input, you start to create your own — internally generated.

How do you know? Here are the signs:

  1. No one challenges your bad ideas (yes, you have many). Your team implements them, and when they fail, people make excuses for you. The market turned. You had unexpected competition. It was a great idea, just bad timing.
  2. In your weekly senior staff meetings, everything is going swimmingly with the division, new product, new hire, marketing program or software installation — pick one … until there’s a complete failure.
  3. You’ve had seven quarters of good financial results, and you’ve become increasingly confident that it’s primarily because of your good leadership. The fact that you’re growing at the same rate as the rest of your industry — maybe even below — seems less important.
  4. Your board members gave you another large bonus. Obviously, they know best.
  5. You know that you could be doing much better if you only had better people. Must be human resource’s fault. Your ideas are great; they just can’t execute!
  6. The quarterly self-development activities that you used to value (e.g., events you attended to get your assumptions challenged and to otherwise learn) no longer make their way onto your calendar.
  7. The gregarious conversation your team is having suddenly turns somber or quiet when you walk into the lunchroom.
  8. You completely understand what your customers need, so there’s little value in spending time with them. Hanging with your peer group is much more rewarding.
  9. The town hall meetings that you used to have with your employees now seem like a waste of time, and they always just bring up petty issues anyway.
  10. You’re tired of asking others their opinions. It’s more fun to talk about what you believe the world should look like.
  11. Your wife thinks you’re getting a big head, but what does she know? She doesn’t have to deal with all the dopes that flood your office.

Any of these ring a bell? Really? You can fix it, but it must start with awareness.

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