360° Coverage : How To Break Through Executive Isolation

2 Updates

How To Break Through Executive Isolation

May 6 2014, 2:08pm CDT | by

A client of mine recently experienced a jarring moment akin to a scene straight out of the old Broadway musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” She was getting ready for a meeting...

Filed under: news

 
 
 

18 weeks ago

How To Break Through Executive Isolation

May 6 2014, 2:08pm CDT | by

A client of mine recently experienced a jarring moment akin to a scene straight out of the old Broadway musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” She was getting ready for a meeting with her CEO. After pulling together her materials, she was asked to review the agenda and presentation with her boss and one of the CEO’s staff advisors. During that prep meeting, the staff person strongly encouraged her to downplay or even eliminate any discussion of the newer, more innovative things she was working on — and not to ask the CEO for anything specific, like a policy decision, funding, or public support. “A senior-level committee handles these kinds of issues,” he assured her, “And the CEO prefers to focus on areas that he can influence immediately.” Finally, he told her to forward the final materials to several other people from the CEO’s office who would be in the meeting.

My client was puzzled by this advice; the CEO had personally requested the meeting a month earlier and seemed very interested in the longer-term initiatives spearheaded by her department — some of which could fundamentally change the company’s trajectory. As a result, her team had spent a great deal of time sharpening their plans and identifying specific ways that the CEO could help to advance them. Now at the last minute — on the way to the forum — this advisor was telling her to back off. What was going on?

The answer lies in a common phenomenon that I call the “gatekeeping of senior executives.” In many large organizations, executive assistants, chiefs of staff, schedulers, and advisors surround senior people; and that’s in addition to direct reports who handle particular subject or functional areas. The purpose of this entourage is to leverage the senior executive’s limited time — to sort through the myriad of issues and requests, establish priorities, filter out low-value activities, and keep the executive focused on where she or he can make the most difference.

While this process does help to leverage a leader’s time, it also has its dark side — it shields the senior executive from direct contact with many of the issues, dynamics, and ideas that are percolating throughout the organization. As a result, all too many senior executives only receive views that have been filtered, orchestrated, and often censored to include only what the “senior circle” thinks he or she should hear. While this sounds extreme, it’s really a pervasive dynamic. I worked with another organization, for example, where project teams regularly held a series of “pre-meetings” with staff people before reviewing progress with a senior sponsor — with the goal of producing a slide deck that wouldn’t raise any questions.

As a senior leader, breaking through this pattern is not easy. When Jack Welch was CEO of GE, he intentionally created “listening posts,” or meetings with managers from other parts of the company where he could get unvarnished views and engage in more spontaneous dialogue. He then urged his senior executives to do the same by insisting that they lead “town meetings” as part of the Work-Out process. Other managers overcome their isolation by setting up skip-level meetings or birthday lunches; or by dropping in on leadership development classes.

Now, if you are a middle manager and want to have direct dialogue with a senior executive, start by not taking everything that his staff people say at face value. They have the difficult job sorting through all of the issues that come the executive’s way, and sometimes their opinions about what to do are just that: opinions. So while you don’t want to argue or offend them, don’t take their advice as if it’s written in stone. Use your own judgment about what you want to say, and how you want to say it. Another approach would be to work up the courage to engage the senior leader in a dialogue, instead of just presenting and asking for approval. Most senior people actually appreciate a good discussion about alternatives and candid views about what might or might not work. And if you can get them to help develop an idea or solution, they will be more committed to helping you take it forward. In fact, in the case of my client she politely ignored the advice of the CEO’s staff people and presented an unadulterated version of the big idea. The CEO was so interested that he asked for a follow up paper and a series of meetings to explore it further.

Overcoming senior executive isolation is a tough challenge — whether you are the executive or a middle manager. But if you don’t break through it, you run the risk of having leaders who may be out of touch.

Editor’s Note:  version of this blog was cross-posted on HBR.org.

 
Update
2

2 weeks ago

Khazanah throws MAS RM6b lifeline

Aug 29 2014 5:01pm CDT | Source: Business Times Singapore

August 30, 2014 1:15 AMKHAZANAH Nasional will inject RM6 billion (SS$2.4 billion) over three years to resuscitate loss-making Malaysia Airlines (MAS) under a recovery plan that includes even an Act of Parliament. Other key moves are migrating its operations, assets and liabilities to a new ...
Source: Business Times Singapore   Full article at: Business Times Singapore
 

 
Update
1

2 weeks ago

MAS posts loss of RM307m for Q2

Aug 28 2014 5:00pm CDT | Source: Business Times Singapore

August 29, 2014 1:13 AMMALAYSIA Airlines (MAS) registered a loss of RM307 million (S$122 million) for the second quarter to end-June, but warned of worse to come in the second half when the "full financial impact of the double tragedies of ...
Source: Business Times Singapore   Full article at: Business Times Singapore
 

 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

India, Vietnam ramp up ties, ink seven agreements
Hanoi, Sep 15 (IANS) Signalling their intent to move closer in various spheres, India and Vietnam Monday signed seven agreements, including one for direct flights between their capitals, for scouting for oil, and an extended line of credit for purchase of defence equipment.
 
 
Asian monsoon much older than previously thought
Washington, Sep 15 (IANS) The Asian monsoon came into existence 40 million years ago during a period of high atmospheric carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures, reports an international research team.
 
 
Mild hyper-tension can be treated without drugs
London, Sep 15 (IANS) For people with mild hyper-tension, encouraging lifestyle changes should be the first line of recommendations for physicians rather than putting them on drugs, suggest experts.
 
 
Fijians safe from Ebola virus: Health ministry
Suva, Sep 15 (IANS) Fiji's health ministry has ruled out any possibility of Ebola outbreak in the island-country because of its geographical location and lack of any direct global trade with West Africa, media reported Monday.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Cheyenne Jackson marries boyfriend Jason Landau
Los Angeles, Sep 15 (IANS) Actor Cheyenne Jackson married his Jewish entrepreneur boyfriend Jason Landau at a private estate in Encino in California. The pair exchanged vows and rings during an interfaith ceremony...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Court gives ex-Israeli PM Olmert reprieve
Jerusalem, Sep 15 (IANS) Israel's Supreme Court Monday ruled that former prime minister Ehud Olmert can stay out of jail pending his appeal against his conviction for bribery, Jerusalem Post reported. He was convicted...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Paris Hilton wants New York home
Paris Hilton is looking for a New York home. The Los Angeles-based socialite was shown round a number of penthouse apartments just a few hours after arriving into the city on Friday (09.12.14) as she is keen to spend...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Cris Judd: Jennifer Lopez marriage was 'tough'
Jennifer Lopez's ex-husband found it ''tough'' being married to her. Choreographer Cris Judd - who married the 45-year-old superstar in 2001 after a month-long engagement - admits he struggled with all the attention...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Mitch Winehouse 'bursting with pride' over statue
Mitch Winehouse is ''bursting with pride'' over the unveiling of a statue of his daughter Amy Winehouse. A memorial to the 'Back to Black' singer was unveiled in Camden, north London - where she lived before she died of...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
India, Vietnam ramp up ties, ink seven agreements
Hanoi, Sep 15 (IANS) Signalling their intent to move closer in various spheres, India and Vietnam Monday signed seven agreements, including one for direct flights between their capitals, for scouting for oil, and an...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Asian monsoon much older than previously thought
Washington, Sep 15 (IANS) The Asian monsoon came into existence 40 million years ago during a period of high atmospheric carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures, reports an international research team. Scientists...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
Dubai to host Asian Tour's newest event in December
Dubai, Sep 15 (IANS) In another first for the city, Dubai will play host to the Asian Tour's final event of 2014 in December, underscoring the buoyancy of the golf industry in the country and across the region. A...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Malaysian girl's body to return from Australia
Kuala Lumpur, Sep 15 (IANS) The family of the eight-year-old girl who was flung from a ride at a carnival in Australia are making preparations to bring her remains back to Malaysia. Honorary Consul of Malaysia in...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Mild hyper-tension can be treated without drugs
London, Sep 15 (IANS) For people with mild hyper-tension, encouraging lifestyle changes should be the first line of recommendations for physicians rather than putting them on drugs, suggest experts. Lead researcher...
Read more on Celebrity Balla