Brian: crikey, already feel as though Christmas was an age ago! New Year, New topic? Any ideas?
Helen: morning BG, Happy New Year! Well, I was having a little drinkie poos with the MD of one of our clients just before Christmas and he set me thinking.
B: pray tell, dear girl.
H: basically he was a bit down because he had a particular conundrum at work that he was having trouble coming to a decision on. Nothing unusual there I hear you say – happens to us all day in, day out. However, what was driving him crazy was that he felt he needed to discuss it with someone to help him arrive at a final conclusion but didn’t know who to turn to.
B: erm, presumably he has some kind of management team around him in the office?
H: well, that’s just it. It was a predicament that would directly impact at least one of them and he thus didn’t feel he’d get a totally truthful or unbiased view.
B: oh, I see.
H: so I then thought, blimey, CEOs must face this predicament all the time, especially those of very small companies who don’t necessarily have any real form of management team.
B: forgive my cynicism, but isn’t this how owners or managers are paid to earn their corn?
H: partly, but with the best will in the world, there are going to be times when you are uncertain or unsure about something and just want to bounce a few ideas around without anyone thinking the worst of you or questioning your ability to run the business.
B: aha, I’m starting to fall in! I guess if decisions are not made or solutions are not found quickly, it can be all too easy for the CEO to become isolated and his or her judgement will start to be questioned. I did read somewhere recently that half of all CEOs admitted to feeling lonely or isolated and I confess I didn’t actually stop and think any more of it at the time.
H: yes! The problem is that as a CEO you are never allowed to have an off day. You have to keep up the portrayal of being the upbeat, decisive, inspirational driver of the business every day of every week.
H: puts things into perspective when you look at it like that, doesn’t it?! At the end of the day, a CEO is a human being and has concerns, reservations and doubts like everyone else.
B: sure does. So what’s the solution?
H: You’re sitting on it!
B: what, my backside?!
H: no, your brains you dope! How many companies are we Non Exec Directors or Finance Directors of? When you think about it, how much of our time in these roles is spent having general chin-wags at any time, day or night, with the MD or CEO on a huge variety of topics? Quite a bit, yeah?
B: I guess it is.
H: that’s precisely the point. We are effectively acting as the sounding board and, without knowing it half the time, helping the CEO to make decisions.
B: indeed. I’ve always thought though that pre-requisites of a Non Exec role if it is to be done well must be as a minimum independence, frankness and accountability? A “yes man” will do no-one any favours. Seems that this all fits in with what you’re talking about?
H: of course. Although it’s important to be a good listener and show empathy, it’s also important to be able to say “For heaven’s sake Justin, this is the third time we’ve talked about this, when are you going to make a decision?” And naturally, that only works if there is existing mutual respect.
B: hmm, this is turning out to be a more topical subject than I thought as I know there are a certain band of investors for example who are increasingly placing emphasis on the importance of CEOs getting external input. Putting two and two together now, it must be because they were once in the position of the entrepreneur and know all about struggling with problems and just how lonely and unappreciated the role can become.
H: yup, and I would have thought people like us, with our vast experience of being sounding boards and dealing with such a huge variety of businesses each throwing up their own day to day problems and situations, are as well placed as any to play the role of the CEOs right hand…..
B: ha, sounds like a plug to me but who am I to complain!