- Posted by Gavin Pommernelle
- On April 28, 2016
Your role as CEO comes with a lot of expectations. You not only have expectations for yourself, but there are multiple stakeholders – shareholders, boards, employees, customers, regulators, your leadership team, others – who all have their own demands. Some of these conveniently overlap. Often they are at best additional ones and at worst conflicting in nature.
Navigating these expectations is critical to your success. The good news is that there is help.
You may have taken on a new leadership role with everyone’s focus now on you. Or, you’ve been in your role for a long time and things are feeling a little too comfortable and routine around you or your business may be at risk of becoming stagnant. You can benefit from your support network for perspective, experience, ideas, knowledge, execution, feedback and context. The value of your network is that you have an existing relationship with the trust that brings and the knowledge in the areas they can help.
I’ve seen successful CEOs develop four key support network groups: External Mentors and Peers; Executive Coaches; The Board and Key Investors; and their Leadership Team. They are developed in a very conscious, sincere and active way – they do not simply exist due to the role they have or people you happen to have met in the past.
External Mentors and Peers
These are people who may have a background in a similar sector, or have been a previous colleague of yours. You may have collaborated on past projects or met at business school. In fact, you are probably continuing to add people in this group as you grow your experience and you make an effort to stay in touch, even if only occasionally.
External mentors and peers are particularly helpful for peer level experience to gain perspective on a situation or their learning having dealt with it in a particular manner. Sometimes they will help with more specialized insights related to a market, sector and even people you should interact with. Other times it may be more generalized in nature.
As you reflect on the strength of your network in this group list make a list of all the people who you can think of who fit in this category, what role they could play, when you were last in touch and the level of your relationship i.e. could you pick up the phone to them now and get their input on a challenge you are dealing with?
Although there may be some similarities to the previous group, Executive Coaches demonstrate additional contributions and key differences. Unlike mentors who help with specific situational solutions, coaches help you develop your approach and methodology in solving business problems. You become highly effective at dealing with business challenges which are likely to be different each time.
As you have engaged the Executive Coach on a paid basis, you set the objectives, time, accessibility, confidentiality, and duration for the coaching relationship. You will agree specific measures of success from the relationship and should expect total constructive honesty from your coach. This is a key differentiator of the relationship versus others in your external network who are likely to be more considered in their feedback due to friendships.
The Board and Key Investors
The reason that the Board and Key Investors are seen as a different group is that they are invested in the outcome of the support they provide. While the outcome should be aligned with your objectives as CEO (i.e. success of the organization) the context has a different focus. Boards have governance responsibilities and with Key Investors have shareholder return responsibilities.
As CEO you can gain valuable insights into board approval criteria if you have a collaborative relationship with insightful and influential board members. It also goes beyond decision making. Effective boards are made up of experienced leaders who can share their own approaches and insights to business challenges. Even if they avoid sharing too much due to the need to maintain non-executive separation, you can still gain a lot of learning by listening closely to the questions they ask and identifying the underlying context that is influencing their questions.
Engaging with Key Investors brings additional data to your decision making. These investors likely have comparative information related to your competitors, a broader market perspective and may signal what matters to them in regard to your strategic business direction.
Your Leadership Team
No CEO can lead their organization to success on their own. You need a Leadership Team with the right behaviors, skills, experience and aligned goals to deliver your business plan. Your business is almost guaranteed to underperform, or even fail, if you have compromised in or avoided dealing with any of these areas.
As the leader of this team it is possible to balance decision making, which may not always be universally popular, with a team dynamic based on trust and respect for each other and yourself. You will benefit from diverse thinking, constructive challenge across the team, personal growth and a successful business.
You can create this balance by ensuring you have created the right environment for the the right people on the team, and holding all accountable (including yourself) for shared and constructive behaviors. In this way your leadership team will become a critical part of your support network, and not simply a group of people to manage.
Each one of these groups is key to your success as CEO.
You also have control over the effectiveness and level of contribution of each through the way you choose to engage with them and when you start to engage with them. Don’t leave it until you need it – it’s never too early to start!
PS. There is an additional “special group” – Employees across your organization can be a highly effective support network in their own right and are so key that I will publish a dedicated article focused on them.
Gavin Pommernelle helps leaders solve business problems, develop their teams and reach their potential. You can find more information on his executive coaching, talent assessment and HR solutions at talentdrivenvalue.com
Special thanks to Shelley Forrester for conducting the interview. forresternetwork.com