Lonely at the Top: Why Leaders Need an Outside Sounding Board (Part One)

A discrete, yet quickly growing aspect of my business is my confidential advisory work with senior leaders. This has always been 100% referral-based. Today, I work with people around the country and in the UK. The amazing leaders with whom I work have typically approached me to help them address a specific challenge they’re facing. They needed help with a particular problem, but the reality is that the primary issue they were facing was that they were in spot in which they had to solve these issues by flying solo, keeping them stuck.

I’ve been there…and it scared the pants off me. The real issue is that these leaders were on an island with wide-ranging problems, such as challenges created by a new board incentive to senior personnel concerns to soul-crushing financial challenges. Rarely do these issues reflect badly on the CEO unless they’re known and ignored; the CEO’s obligation is to address these major issues. My clients are great leaders, and these challenges are part of the simple truth that as CEOs, it’s your job to stand on that island – alone. You’re the one who is ultimately accountable for all the people below you and their actions, or to the board or investors above you. And as such, even with the best of intentions, everyone you have contact with is likely to have a separate agenda. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t wonderful people, but face it…if you’re having issues with the VP of HR, is it good practice talk with the head of sales about that? The very likely answer is a resounding “no”. Or if you have a board or investor who’s creating unreasonable expectations (but these expectations need to be met), you have to show a united front with the board. However, as the CEO, where do you go to brainstorm, vent, and problem solve? Further, where do you go to share your fear regarding a genuine crisis? Where can you openly talk it through and work on identifying the solution? Likely nowhere. As the leader, if your leadership team or board even catches a whiff of fear from you, everything could get much worse – quickly. The CEO must be the unshakeable confident leader that shepherds everyone through the dark places to the Promised Land. Holy crap, that can be too big of a burden for one person to carry!

But it doesn’t have to be that way…

I’ve seen where a rock-solid spouse becomes that sounding board. Rarely does this work well for the long haul, especially if the CEO feels any fear. Transferring this fear to your home life isn’t fair. I’ve seen this many times and it can even get to the point of engagement fatigue by the spouse, which leads to burnout and resentment on the spouse’s behalf.

Senior leaders are often stuck between a rock and a hard place.

In the next four blog posts of this five-part series, I’ll discuss and outline a three-step process I use to help address these challenges. These blogs will cover the following topics:

  1. The initial meeting and assessment
    1. Determining needs
    2. Establishing fit
    3. Clarifying the role of a strategic advisor
      1. Objective sounding board (“I needed a confidential place to talk it out.”)
      2. Collaborator (“I need an active participant in working through and solving issues.”)
      3. Coach/teacher (“I have some holes in my game and I need help getting better.”)
  2. Outlining the process and initial first steps
    1. Outlining what an engagement typically looks like
    2. Addressing obstacles and barriers (“I have a specific issue I need to address.”)
    3. Maximizing results (“Things are good, but I want more.”)
    4. Work-life balance (“I’m burning out and don’t know how to get off the treadmill.”)
  3. A process to define what success looks like
    1. The importance of a clear vision
    2. A simple visualization process
  4. Getting started
    1. Documenting your visualizations
    2. Identifying key objectives and creating a strategy to achieve
    3. Regular collaborative access and accountability

I’m hoping that if you find yourself on a leadership island, perhaps you can utilize some of the information here to help you address some of your challenges. I’m humbled when I work with caring, engaged leaders. I believe that as a whole, leaders want to do a better job, maximize their team’s potential, and fulfill their fiduciary obligations. I strongly believe that this starts by first expanding our bandwidth and improving our skills – and this isn’t something that can be done from the confines of an island. Leaders need to know that someone has their back.

It’s worth noting that this sort of thing isn’t for everyone, which is why the concept of fit is so important. If you’d like to explore what this could look like for you, please schedule an hour with Kris for a complimentary discussion about you, your team, and your journey.

If you’re a business owner, CEO, president, or chairman of the board, and you’d like to see if we may be a fit, I’d be humbled to have the opportunity to speak with you and to provide you with an hour of time to explore where we could go. http://entrepreneurial-advisors.com/contact/

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