3 Great Avenues for CEOs Seeking Help
You're never too experienced or accomplished to ask for advice or support, and as a chief executive, there are three main sources that can always be relied upon.
I remember the first time I had to formally address my entire workforce. We had about 20 people by then, and for some company matters small huddles and casual catch ups worked, but not for everything. As a shy person, speaking with confidence to a larger crowd left me with sweaty hands and trailing sentences. Fast forward three years, and I'm now considering speaking at conferences and am happy doing interviews.
What changed? I got the right help.
What's termed "transformativeness" — essentially the ability to grow and improve — has been shown to inspire and motivate employees, alongside the other benefits of personal development. It's a business skill not taught in school, but principally through experience — this embrace of the learning process, and that it doesn't stop even when you get to the top. They key difference is that, closer to that top, you're less likely to be offered a helpful hand, and so may need to ask for one. So, as your business grows, don't be afraid to get help in these key aspects.
1. An accountability partner
CEOs are chronically time-crunched, and likely always will be, but if an abundance of tasks leaves you feeling disorganized and scattered, it's time to ask for help. Small tasks become bigger ones when they're left too long. The bigger my company got, the more meetings, interviews and other speaking engagements I had to attend, and so I began missing events or delaying them. I found that I actually had the bandwidth do it all, but without someone keeping me accountable and/or on track, I was simply all over the place.
If you're the only one who is aware of the task at hand, you're less likely to get it done. Having someone you can rely on to check in means that person is waiting to hear from you and who knows what tasks you have ahead. A business partner or a member of your executive team who you can keep in the loop, or an assistant to support as well as remind you, can ensure that tasks are completed on time. And as a bonus, this will set a good example for your team members, and so help reduce their burnout, too.
2. Can't talk the talk? Find someone who can.
In 2011, Leo Apotheker was fired from his CEO role at Hewlett-Packard after less than a year on the job. Why? Aside from some poor business decisions, lack of communication skills kept landing him in trouble, including not sharing ideas with people before implementing them. As CEO, your communications hold more weight than ever, which means every piece of messaging needs to be clear, concise and factual. So, find someone who can identify and help solve any communication obstacles you face.
You may find, too, that in some scenarios you might not be the best spokesperson. We have, for example, some companies and government agencies looking to partner with us on a project. They're trying to get an idea of what a working relationship might look like, and what we have to offer each other. While I can take these calls, I know there's someone better for the job: our VP of communications. His ability to be the face of the company (when needed) and convey our vision is what makes him so valuable to the team, including demonstrating skills I sometimes lack.
So first, look at your own communication skills, and don't be shy about participating in media/messaging training (or any other kind of instruction, for that matter). One that comes to mind is honing the fine art of interviewing, which was never my strong suit, so I had a professional give me some pointers which played out over some occasionally intense mock interviews. Over several sessions, I started getting the hang of getting to the point quickly and clearly… no more rambling.
3. Elon Musk and the Google co-founders are buddies, and you need some too
I spent several years in San Francisco, and was lucky enough to live in the same area as many entrepreneurs and business people. It was here that I gained the invaluable experience of living among a network of individuals who wanted to innovate, learn and build. One of these neighbors was the co-founder of a popular platform that you've probably used several times today. (Out of respect for privacy, I'm not going to name it.) We exchanged stories and discussed ideas, and in time realized that even big tech companies had their own struggles. Just like my company is innovating in a new space, so were they.
Entrepreneurial networks are invaluable — one that will both support you and give feedback. As a business grows and you come up against new challenges and opportunities, lean on this network for advice, and if you're wary of communicating ideas to an external network, engage an advisory board — people with relevant expertise that you can trust. Such a board's purpose isn't to make money, but to put you on the right track. An unbiased perspective can make all the difference.
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