In it, he says: “Leaders filled with hubris are more likely to overpay for acquisitions and engage in other risky strategies. Leaders ought to cultivate humility. They certainly need to build cultures in which people can and will disagree with them over substantive decisions. They ought to get out and experience the world as others see it, maybe actually meet customers and shareholders, and they need to talk less and listen more.”
So how can a CEO, or anyone on a position of power and authority, avoid this trap? Here’s a starter list, and I’ll invite readers to add your own ideas.
1. I’m going to begin with a few of the ideas mentioned by Jeffrey Pfeffer, starting with encourage and reward dissent. I know this is easier said than done, it fact, it’s extremely difficult, and in reality, could be borderline anarchy. As an alternative to having dissent from everyone, a leader can cultivate a cadre of trusted advisors from all levels, inside and outside of the company. At a minimum, we can always rely on our closest loved one to keep us grounded!
2. Spend time with customers. I’m not talking about formal visits with your favorite customer’s top executives. Go out with your sales reps; sit in and listen to calls at your call center; take a tour of your customer’s business to see how they use your product; be a “mystery shopper” for your own product or service.
3. Read and answer your own email. Encourage employees at all levels to email you with questions, concerns, and suggestions. Let employees know that you may not be able to answer every one of them, but you will read them.
4. Be visible and accessible. Eat in the company cafeteria; attend company events; drop in on training programs. Don’t just sit with other executives – sit by yourself and ask employees to join you, or invite yourself to join other employees.
5. Have regular “fireside chats” with randomly selected, vertical slices of employees. Don’t do all of the talking; in fact, do as little talking as possible. I’ve seen executives show up at these things, talk about company strategy, entertain a few questions, and leave. While they may have left a positive impact, which is great, they learn absolutely nothing. Ask lot’s of questions and do a lot of listening.
6. Do regular “deep dives” with as many departments as possible. Spend a ½ - to a full day meeting with as many people as possible, touring the building, listening to presentations, asking questions, looking under the hood and kicking the tires.
7. Call the corporate travel agent and schedule a road trip. Take a few of your managers with you. Hit as many offices in a region, country, state, or some other geographic territory as possible. Schedule time with key customers, local management teams, high potentials, and other key local stakeholders. Do all employee meetings, formal tours, and when you can, lose your handlers and just wander around and ask questions.
8. Conduct regular employee and customer surveys. Don’t just read the executive summary – study the data, read the raw comments, and ask questions.
9. Work with an executive coach who’s willing to get in your face and tell it like it is.
10. Leverage technology and social networking. Start your own blog; provide your customers and employees a confidential forum to post comments.
By Dan McCharty