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  • Writer's pictureNeta Vizel

Unveiling the CEO's cracks

Before we opened our leadership development program for the management team, the CEO really wanted the program to take place but didn't want to be a part of it.

It took us several talks to agree that he is an integral part of the management team and the most important figure in the team, whose presence is critical and the program can also be used as a leadership tool for him to show his values, strengthen partnerships and present an authentic personal example of all the strengths that brought him and the company to the successful place it is today.

People throwing papers
Uncovering the CEO's cracks

On the morning of one of one of the sessions planned, he informed me minutes before we started that he could not come and that he would like us to hold the session without him, "nothing will happen if I’ll skip one time and besides, it’ll give them a chance to bad-mouth on me:)”.

We were already all there ready to start so I didn't really have a choice and agreed.

The session felt awkward, as if there’s an elephant in the room, or rather the absence of an elephant.

Half of the session went as planned and then one of the managers brought up that a few days ago they had a serious incident with their CEO's outburst of rage against the management team, in front of their managers and employees.

It soon turned into a full room of managers sharing similar feelings and experiences. They said they greatly appreciate their CEO, for his wisdom, determination, sharpness, goodwill and dedication towards them, but nevertheless, when he is confronted behavior that does not meet his expectations, he reacts impulsively and aggressively instantly knocking the “house of cards” based on trust, partnership and caring that he has worked so hard to build every day for years.

They shared that it has gotten to the point where they even avoid contacting him because they don't know how he will react and avoid raising new ideas because they fear his reaction will insult them.

The managers emphasized throughout the conversation that they see all his positive contribution and that his unexpected negative reactions are what break them time and time again.

I left this session with mixed feelings. On the one hand, keeping it discreet so all that was said in the room stays in the room, is a top professional value both in group facilitation and organizational consulting. On the other hand, I was hired by the CEO to promote the success and growth of the company by making the management team more robust. So, a consistent pattern that harms trust, collaboration and innovation at the management team is most likely to harm the optimal functioning of the whole company.

After giving it much thought, I initiated a meeting with the CEO outside the office and planned it carefully.

"So, did they complain about me?" He asked once we met with a smile mixed with fear.

And continued "I know I exaggerated last week in my response to one of the events”.

I grabbed the opportunity to use the case that he himself brought up and we started rolling the case and the reactions that were involved.

While asking questions about what he said and how they reacted and how he reacted back, I asked questions like: “what do you think the reaction would have been if you had said it that way and not the way you said it?”

During this meeting, the CEO gradually realized, without me having to say so, that the words he uses or doesn’t make a world of a difference and that even the best intentions can fall flat if they are broadcasted with diminishing words and without giving the other side the space to be seen or heard.

A few days after that meeting with the CEO, I received a message from him:

"I had a conversation with my managers today and it went really well! By the way, I won't miss any more sessions with my team because that's the only way I can really grow and develop to be the best CEO for them."


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