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The Alchemy of Leadership Blog

Being the Boss


Being the Boss is different.  When you’re the Chief Executive, you have a different relationship with the rest of the organisation.  The organisation wants you to be part of it and yet separate from it at the same time.  The people who feel this most immediately are the CEO’s direct reports or ‘C-Suite’ (Chief Financial Officer, Chief Information Officer, Chief Operating Officer, etc).  They want the CEO to be part of the team – who wants an aloof, distant, remote boss?  But they also want her/him to be apart from the team – the boss has to lead them, s/he can’t just be their mate any more.

Inevitably, the boss finds themselves fed a lot of positive messages about how they’re doing.  The career progression, and indeed survival, of the C-Suite members (and their team members in turn) depends to a large extent on how the CEO feels about them.  It’s natural to give the boss warm, positive messages; much harder to let them know when you think they’re doing an average job.  Good CEOs interpret these positive messages correctly, trying hard to retain humility and realism about it all.  After all, once the CEO leaves the job, everyone will forget how wonderful s/he was and blame them for everything that goes wrong!  Suddenly they won’t be a genius any more.

The same process works in reverse.  I can remember talking with the head of Investor Relations at a big company I used to work at.  He had just come out of a bruising meeting with his boss.  Ruefully he told me “It’s amazing how my IQ rises and falls in line with the share price!”  He retained his sense of humour – can you?

© Patrick Macdonald 2015

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