Mentoring; Advising The CEO

Advising CEOs sounds like a dream job. The executive office is viewed as the center of power, home to some of the most charismatic men and women in business. But, over the past decade of helping CEOs, I’ve come to realize that coaching a CEO can be as perplexing as it is rewarding.

The role of a CEO adviser is unique because the role of the CEO is unique. MOST advisers have complimentary relationships with their clients, breathing the same air, grappling with the same challenges. In business, no air is as rarefied, and no challenges are as complex, as at the top. I watch CEOs becoming increasingly beleaguered under pressure from boards, investors, special interest groups, the press, and politicians. For many, the job is all consuming.

Consider these distinctions of the job:

  • No one else in the organization is so starved for unbiased information. While CEOs understand in principle that everyone who seeks their attention has an agenda, they don’t always know a bias when they see one.
  • No one else so needs to hear hard truths. Yet in the CEO’s presence, people are guarded, unwilling to raise difficult topics. 
  • No one else is such a lightning rod for criticism of the business, with all the anger, frustration, and occasionally outright humiliation that such a role entails.
  • No one else is the final arbiter in so many vital business decisions and, consequently, so vulnerable to self-doubt.
  • No one else is the subject of so many statements beginning “No one else.” Within the company, the CEO has no true peers, no colleagues in whom s/he can unreservedly confide.
  • The job often brings intense and profound loneliness.

Even the best-of-the-best CEOs have their blind spots and can dramatically improve their performance with an outside perspective weighing in.  Just remember that if you find yourself in the role of advising a CEO - never forget the extreme pressure and issues they carry.  It's best to have walked a mile in those shoes before you offer opinions with no real insight.