CEO Coaching: You’ll Never Hear the Truth Again!
“When you make general or admiral in the military, they say: ‘Congratulations, general. You’ll never eat poorly again. And you’ll never hear the truth again.’ Well, that’s the last thing you can put up with, even in routine times.”
—James Mattis, former secretary of defense and Marine general, McKinsey interview
At 18,000 feet, you have half as much oxygen as you do at sea level. Pilots must either be in a pressurized aircraft or use supplemental oxygen above 14,000 feet; if they don’t, they’ll seem like they’ve had a pitcher of margaritas. Gaining altitude — whether in an aircraft, the military or a business — requires more diligence, different skills and supplemental oxygen.
In an aircraft, supplemental oxygen involves putting on a mask connected to an oxygen tank.
Federal Aviation Administration regulations require it — if you don’t do it, you won’t recognize when you pass from a reasonably intelligent pilot to a moron piloting an expensive piece of metal. You’ll probably die and take others with you.
In an organization, truth is the oxygen you need to avoid becoming a moron, and it requires special procedures to obtain. This problem is insidious, because it creeps up on you as you climb the organization’s ladder; it isn’t a switch that flips.
The more authority (really, power) you have, the more people want to please you. Even good-intentioned people. They’ll avoid upsetting you (in part because you control their paycheck), and they’ll tell you what they think you want to hear. This may be because you’re a scary leader (on the extreme end, a narcissistic leader who surrounds himself or herself with sycophants — can you think of one?), but it also may be because they respect and enjoy you. Maybe you had a big brother whom you admired when you were young. Do you remember doing things to please him?
I’ve seen this happen to very good people. A CEO title and a big salary are only part of the problem. Some of them are wonderful people, but when you’re breathing thin air for a long time, you forget what reality is. It might look like a sense of entitlement to most, but I know that it’s a result of not hearing the truth.
There’s a vaccine for this, and you can recover from the disorder, but both require a bit of suffering. You must find a truth-talker, ask the right questions, shut up and listen.
You may never have to eat poorly again, but if you don’t find the truth, you’ll eventually become a moron running a doomed organization.
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).
Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email [email protected].
DON VAN WINKLE8:25 am May 18, 2020
Any Leader who believes they are immune to the intentional or unintentional influence of sycophants is in illusion. It happens and is not always obvious, sometimes like a slow drip.
What a breath of fresh air are those that speak with candor, realism and honest insight be the news good, bad or ugly. They typically pose great questions of themselves and others. A great reminder. Thanks Todd!
Todd Ordal7:58 am May 19, 2020
Thanks, Don! You’re right, those who wish to please do not always do it intentionally.
Don Myers9:33 am May 18, 2020
Thank you Todd for making this issue visible. Further to your thoughts, I have come to believe that leaders who mastered the art of having their team experience “being heard”,, the more likely it is that it will become a safer and safer place for the truth to be revealed.
Todd Ordal7:56 am May 19, 2020
Thanks, Don. Well said!