October 8, 2006

Where should the CEOs reside – in their cushy corner offices or in the thick of the corporate action? Traditionally, CEOs are considered those thick skinned gentlemen (pun intended) who are hard nosed and meet only their key people and make public appearance to the ordinary employees once or twice a year. It worked in past. But it may not work now and in future. The reason is simple: Business has become complex and getting more complex by the day.

The problem arises in the corner office, selective audience approach because the CEO loses touch with the entire organization. Often this results in CEO becoming unaware of the ground realities. With selective audience approach, the CEO gets selective information about the organization, often filtered through the eyes and intentions of his right hand men, which is of course not a healthy sign.

Another issue that comes up with this sacrosanct corner office approach is that devoid of the understanding of ground realities, the CEO often demands something in good intention which turns out to be a productivity killer and distraction for the people. The right hand men, often to remain in the good books of the CEO, never protest even if what CEO is demanding in impractical, useless, and wastage of time. This entire thing often results in a confused organization where the people at the frontline are clueless about what is happening and why. And the organization keeps dancing to the whims and fancies of a CEO and real business issues are relegated down the order.

Ultimately what this corner office, selective audience CEO does is harm the future of his organization.

In current times, I don’t think any organization would excel if the CEO keeps himself away from his people. In fact, he can’t afford that. All the people in the present day organizations are intelligent people who have ideas, problems, solutions, questions, etc. Being the leader of his people, the CEO is expected to keep himself abreast of what is brewing in the organization. He has to open channels of communication, possibly with technological interventions, which ensure that each and every employee finds him accessible. Moreover, the CEO needs to have significant face time with his people through personal interaction in cafeteria, parties, get-togethers, video conferencing, meetings, talks, etc. The people must relate to the CEO and must feel that he is one of them and not some kind of a demigod who often acts like a devil.

And mind it, this is not micro managing. It’s more about letting the people run the show and deeply empathizing with them and guiding them through the organizational goals. It’s what I call “bear hug leadership”, a style of leadership where the entire organization emotionally bonds with the leader and his organizational agenda. And there cannot be a better way than “bear hug leadership” to effectively communicate the leader’s vision and agenda throughout the breadth of the organization – from his right hand men to the guy at the shop floor or in the market place.

When will the CEOs learn empathy management?