Most business leaders feel that they need to have the answer to all questions and situations and that there isn't anyone impartial or experienced within their organisation who can empathise with them. It can make the role of CEO a lonely one.
The nuanced pressures of being responsible for a team, struggling to make payroll, raise capital, or sense-check your ideas and opinions are unique to the position of business leadership. Finding someone you can meet regularly to talk about everything from business decisions to the impact of your work on your family life is an intangible but invaluable commodity.
What is a CEO Whisperer?
In the 1990s, the film The Horse Whisperer burst onto the scenes with Robert Redford in the starring role. Michael O'Hara, one of our Fractional CMOs, who has been a CEO himself in many SMEs/SMBs, was working with a CEO who quipped that his ability to understand motives, needs and desires of a CEO made him the corporate world's whisperer alternative, providing a seemingly magical ability to help leaders find the right path.
Michael is one of a select number of experienced business leaders in the gigCMO team, able to provide CEO Whisperer support. It is a role that can only be filled because they have been in the same position as those they are working with. Part mentor, part coach, part non-executive director. The difference between this role and that of a more traditional NED is the flexibility with which they can be called upon.
They also bring strategic business marketing, operations and development insights due to the path by which they came to the C-Suite themselves, both as CEOs and as chief marketing officers. As a result, they can talk about things the CEO wouldn't be comfortable talking to their management team or board of directors about; they provide the ear of someone who has been through it all before and helps leaders steer a steady course.
What do you expect from your team?
The ability to see a company from an outside perspective and say the things to a CEO that employees can't make the CEO Whisperer role unique and add value to the company. Michael believes that one of the most critical areas of change and success within organisations, and where the CEO Whisperer can help create transformative change, is company culture.
"Most companies pay people the wrong way," he says. "They incentivise certain behaviours and create a culture based on fear of losing their jobs through sales commissions and peer competition. Clear expectations for personal success and development and performance-based bonuses set against goals that contribute to the company's success as a whole would be more productive. If you ask most CEOs if their employees know what's expected of them, they will say 'of course'. The reality is that most don't. However, we are all pleasers, and if we know what is expected of us and that we are rewarded positively for it, it's amazing what people can achieve."
Training leaders for more successful teams
The function of leadership development and training for new CEOs and the need to create a culture of training is also an important gap that the Whisperer can fill. Michael says: "One of the things we collectively do very badly is train people for management and leadership roles. As a result, you end up with poor management long term and this fear-based culture."
For example, it would be typical for a lead salesperson to be promoted to a management position but never trained to manage. So, you have a situation where your star performer is no longer selling, causing sales to drop. Then, because they don't know how to lead, they do it poorly, and you end up with an unhappy and underperforming team as well. This perpetuates company culture based on fear because each individual is afraid of losing their job because of poor performance or someone else's poor performance.
If companies train people well, they can make informed decisions that are more likely to lead to successful outcomes. However, if things go wrong despite having done the best job possible, then it is a learning opportunity and should be considered in that capacity. If people are penalised because the results aren't right, then they will never operate to the best of their ability. The same applies when you get into senior leadership and executive coaching; the culture stems from there and directly impacts company performance.
There's a wide variety of reasons that a CEO might want to seek a CEO Whisperer's support. From telling you the tough things, no other team member can provide an outside perspective; from personal challenges to professional development. The CEO Whisperer provides a safe space to explore and discuss thoughts, concerns, insights, and company direction and provides mentorship and support.
Find out how a CEO Whisperer could help you and your business.
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