CEO Coaching: Take Some Abuse
If you’re a senior leader and serious about not breathing your own exhaust, not becoming the smartest person in the room, and getting too big for your britches, there’s only one vaccine available: willingly take some abuse.
If you’re more Putin than Gandhi, it’s already too late. There’s no antidote, only a vaccine. However, if you still have some humility, if you’re still more curious than doubt-free, and if you believe that even though you’re a big shot you can still learn from others, you can inoculate yourself against “big-shot-itis.”
You have many options for taking abuse, for keeping your ego in check. You don’t want so much that you lose confidence, but you want enough that you lose certainty. Below are a few doses of vaccine you can benefit from. Unlike prescription medications, these have more positive impact when taken together.
Talk to your customers. Directly, not through your sales force. Especially talk with the pissed off ones. You can find them online, in your stores, on the list of cancelled orders, and in those who defected to your competition.
Get a competent advisor or coach to do a 360 evaluation. Someone who wants to help you win by telling the truth. Only do this, however, if you’re willing to change and publicly acknowledge the feedback. Be brave and share the feedback with your board.
Occasionally work on “the shop floor” to see how the most important work gets done. Look for indications that some of your decisions made work harder. Don’t talk much, just listen.
In your one-on-ones, ask the three good questions (you are doing one-on-ones, aren’t you?): (1) What’s going well for you? (2) Where are you struggling? (3) How can I help? And add a fourth: (4) How can I do a better job?
I jest when I call this abuse. Honest feedback is perhaps the most important gift you can receive as a leader. It takes some skill to elicit and hear the truth, but you don’t really want to be a know-it-all big shot, do you?
coaches CEOs to higher levels of success. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000 people. Todd is the author of, Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing).