My coaching clients routinely tell me that once you hit the C-Suite, Time, Truth and Trust become rare. As a former CEO, I can attest to this.
These intangible but critical aspects of the working environment are important for good relationships, solid decision-making and professional stewardship. Their absence can lead to negative consequences, both personally and within organizations. Poor management, lack of consensus/commitment and a culture of fear, for example, make “Getting to Real”—seeing things as they truly are—almost impossible.
The impacts of globalization, technology, complexity and competition in the market place, as well as the expectations of short-term success, limit time. “I don’t control my schedule; my schedule controls me” is a consistent refrain. Senior leaders rarely take a week off. Even if they are physically removed from work, genuine disconnection is considered career suicide. The lack of time to gather information, evaluate options and plan leads to imperfect and rushed decision-making and poor execution.
To paraphrase Churchill, the first casualty of a promotion is the truth. Information often gets diluted or filtered and facts adjusted by the time they reach senior leaders. Many of the worst historical business failures resulted through a lack of “truth to power” from lower-level executives. If truth is compromised, even the most skilled leaders can experience a disorienting sense of wariness, skepticism and paranoia, which unerringly leads to a lack of trust.
The highest organization levels have rarefied, politicized atmospheres where ambitions, styles, goals and personalities clash. Outwardly, colleagues may agree they are on the same team. Inwardly, however, motivations and ambitions may not align. In an environment where one bad decision or one poorly executed plan can lead to career failure, trusting others can seem unnatural.
So, how do you “Get to Real?”
Time: A Solution
To be more in control of their Time, leaders can:
Leverage the visible and invisible infrastructure around them
Use their team, schedule, physical space and mental energy to make time work for them
Consider themselves as the engine and their team, as the gears. Focus on ways to leverage their team to conserve energy.
Try my 3i exercise. It helps leaders develop their teams and has freed up between four to fourteen hours a week for those who have used it.
Truth: A Solution
To improve the quality of Truth, leaders can:
Consider how they ask questions
Consider who they ask questions to
Seek truth in unexpected places
Develop informal communication lines to trusted employees without agendas or bias
Have a consigliere, mentor or trusted advisor inside/outside the organization
Trust: A Solution
To improve levels of Trust, leaders can:
Develop an environment within their team and wider organization where trust is earned
Encourage open communication
Provide more responsibility and autonomy, but within firm guidelines, often described as “eyes on, hands off” management
Tolerate small mistakes as part of a learning process
Spend time developing employees
Time, Truth and Trust are precious commodities in a leader’s work life. Without them, leaders are susceptible to failure.
“Getting to Real” takes effort, but payoffs include improved risk management, a better working culture, more optimal and timely decision-making and ultimately, more effective leadership.