I have the honor and the privilege of working with the CEO Connection, an exclusive organization comprised of CEOs leading companies with more than $100 million in revenues.
Part of my role includes spending time on the phone with CEOs who have been nominated to join the organization, discussing the culture that they’ll find within the organization if they join, and the events that we host that bring our members together.
One of those events is called a “CEO Boot Camp.” Twelve CEOs from around the country and across industries spend the day together talking about their biggest challenges in a closed-door manner. They all sign a non-disclosure agreement walking into the event, and unlike an iPhone at a sales meeting in Vegas, what happens in the CEO Boot Camp really does stay in the CEO Boot Camp.
So, several months ago I was on the phone with a CEO of a well-known company talking about the Boot Camps when he seemed to have an epiphany – an “a-ha” moment that was expressed to me with a delighted gasp…
He said, “A chance for me to be vulnerable and finally admit what I don’t know.”
I was stunned.
Stunned at the fact that he felt he could not freely admit what he didn’t know. He was afraid to.
Why is that? Are we holding our leaders to such a high standard that any allowance for vulnerability is perceived as weakness?
Now, I fully understand the scrutiny that CEOs are under and the fact that the average CEO tenure is roughly 18 to 24 months. I suspect many grapple with:
- A fear of failure
- A fear of misreading the market, the competitive landscape, their customers
- A fear of making the wrong decision
- A fear of being too bold or too reticent
- A fear of a company crisis
But it’s because of the speed at which they either succeed or fail that made it that much more surprising to me that this CEO was afraid to admit what he didn’t know. In my experience, admitting you don’t know something is the fastest way to start moving towards receiving the input, advice and help that enable you to then move forward.
Think about this. If a leader chooses to wait months to participate in an event with his peers in order to feel comfortable admitting what he doesn’t know, what is the extent of the lost opportunities in the interim? What are the costs and risks of not allowing himself to be comfortable with his vulnerability and asking for support or advice to enable him to boldly move forward? And what has driven him to this point?
There are probably an infinite number of current leadership examples you can think of in politics and business where instead of a leader admitting what they didn’t know or that they needed help to capably address an opportunity or crisis, they allowed the fear of showing their vulnerability to get the better of them with often disastrous consequences.
In this particular CEO’s case, when he shared his vulnerabilities at the Boot Camp (which I attended) it was clear that they were simply a byproduct of his particular experiences to-date, and nothing “out of the ordinary” from others’ perspectives. He was able to provide truly insightful and valuable advice to his peers and receive the same back from them. Net-net, he needed some experienced input but his fears, solely from my perspective, were not warranted.
Do you have fears that are making it harder for you to lead? Are you:
- Putting off making important and even time sensitive decisions
- Finding that projects/launches are missing key milestones – or not even getting off the ground?
- Not pursing new business partnerships or finding yourself putting off meetings with current or potential partners
- Constantly in “reactive mode” rather than “proactive mode”
Is fear stopping you from:
- Openly admitting what you don’t know and where you could use some outside expertise in order to continue with a forward trajectory
- Approaching a potential partner/buyer/acquisition with a bold proposal
- Being creative in your approach to new challenges
- Embracing innovation
What are the upsides of getting past this? Would you be a better leader because of it and would you be inspired to create a culture where asking for help is encouraged?
Please share your thoughts in the comments…I’d be honored to hear from you!
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