For CEO’s – It’s Lonely At The Top

By Ken Garner
In April 1, 2015

It’s a fact, if you’re the “top dog” in your organization there are times when it can be a lonely existence. Okay, I know there are some who have little sympathy and argue that’s why “we make the big bucks”. And, becoming a CEO is almost always the result of an individual making the choice to occupy the top leadership position. Still, like all levels of organizational responsibility it has its unique challenges and for those who are not CEO’s I would tell you that you “don’t know what you don’t know”. This isn’t a plea for sympathy or pity. It’s a statement of reality that impacts the effectiveness of the individual and potentially the success of the organization.

After more than 40 years of business experience, working my way from the plant floor to junior management positions, sales positions, then to senior management positions and eventually to “C” level responsibilities I feel like I have some context with this issue. I will admit to spending time around the water cooler criticizing management decisions with colleagues. I have no doubt that some level of “second guessing” is going on right now in my organization. As the saying goes, “it goes with the territory”. The point is that in most organizations colleagues can vent with colleagues. These therapeutic meetings take place over lunch, or over adult cocktails after work. Not so for the CEO. I don’t care how close you are to your leadership team, there are some things you just aren’t comfortable sharing. There are some frustrations, fears and doubts you keep to yourself.

What to do? An article in the April 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review, “CEO’s Need Mentors Too” by Suzanne de Janasz and Maury Peiperi contains an option worth considering. The authors conducted a study (of course they did!) that found that CEO’s were able to improve their effectiveness by seeking the advice and counsel of veteran leaders from outside their companies. In other words, they sought and received the benefit of experiential wisdom from other CEO’s (retired or still active) in traditional mentoring relationships. Without getting into the details of the article, the authors found three criteria that effective mentors needed to satisfy –

  • Effective mentors needed to have relevant experience.
  • Effective mentors needed to have a broad perspective.
  • Effective mentors created complete trust.

Having a mentor to speak with, share ideas with, and share concerns with can be an invaluable resource. It’s the type of support system that can significantly improve the effectiveness of a CEO and can extend his/her career life (translation = prevent burn out).

While I’m on this subject I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you about Epicomm’s “CEO Roundtable” program. Now in its second year, this quarterly meeting of instructors and 12 CEO’s has proven to be a huge success – just ask the participants. It’s more than just classroom training. It includes lots of class participation, simulated exercises, and sharing among participants. Again, the feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive as they increase their effectiveness and improve their skills as the top leader in their respective organizations. Please send me an e-mail if you’re interested in learning more about this powerful program.

Also, let me know if you’re interested in exploring the concept of mentoring. As I said, I’ve been around business for over four decades. I’ve enjoyed some success and made my share of mistakes but I’ve learned a thing or two that I would be happy to share. And sometimes the best thing to do is just listen.

More food for thought.

Ken Garner

President & CEO Ken Garner joined Epicomm – then the Association of Marketing Service Providers – in November 2008 as its President and CEO after a 33 year career in the printing industry – all with the same company. He joined United Litho, a heatset web magazine printing company, after receiving his undergraduate degree. Working his way up the corporate ladder from janitor/delivery driver he held a variety of jobs including V.P of Operations and V.P. of Sales and Marketing. He spent the last 12 years of his printing career as United Litho’s president. In 1994, he engineered the sale of the company to the Sheridan Group and became a member of its Leadership Team.

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