How can CEOs Manage the Madness?

CEOs are on the receiving end of all kinds of madness: mistakes, impractical ideas, daft decisions, sullen silences and floods of tears. Such madness can emerge in the presence of power, just when it most matters for us to be sane. How can CEOs deal with this, and how can we influence them to manage the madness?

A former me, dimly remembered, was stuck in “polite” mode, afraid of being fired, so unable to speak truth to power. One day I woke up in a different place: as a “trusted advisor” I had been let in to the “C-Suite”. From here I can see more of what happens surrounding a few CEOs, and I have some questions:

  • As a CEO, how do you square up to the challenge of bringing the best from others?
  • And as advisors, how do we measure up when we meet the CEO? Are power and politics really dead and buried? If not how can we nudge things to make it a better, healthier workplace?

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Currently my advice is…

  1. To the CEO: turn your direct reports into a team of CEOs, enable them in a radical way, share openly the information and responsibility. Spend more time asking, looking and listening, towards their understanding the company in its “eco-system”. Be “you”: honest, imperfect, a person they can know and trust.
  2. To those who advise the CEO: be “system-savvy”, wear your company not your silo hat, tell - don’t doctor - the truth. Work more directly across silos, not always passing things up and down through the CEO.
  3. To those who advise others: treat each person you advise as a mini-CEO, having them set aside their own interest. Find thow they can contribute to what the whole company actually needs. Make it confidential, don’t tittle-tattle.

What is your experience? Can you work with principles like these to channel the power of your CEO, reducing the poison and politics, towards a happier and healthier workplace?