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Do You Know How Your Employees See You?

Most CEOs think of themselves as “regular” people. Nothing special about them. So they govern their actions as if they were the same as everyone else. Well, there is a difference between you and the people that work for you…at least in their minds.

Perceptions are quite real to the people who see you in action. Their image of you is probably not what your image of yourself is, so you need to be aware of that. If you don’t understand this difference in perception, you cannot be a great CEO.

Your Perspective vs. Their Perspective

You see yourself as a typical business person, not much different than anyone else. You hang out with people like yourself, so everything seems quite “normal” to you. But look at it from the perspective of the people who work for you. They see a person who is in charge; someone who founded and built a company (or was brought in to run it). You make more money than they do. You probably drive a really nice car and wear an expensive watch. You are going to business lunches and traveling all over the USA or internationally for meetings. You are busy negotiating deals, giving speeches, attending important meetings offsite, and handing out awards and bonuses. Your signature is on their paychecks.

If you don’t think that presents a certain image to your employees, then you are blind. They have an image of a person who has put his/her stamp on the company, and of someone who is important, in charge, and successful. Most of them know they could never start a company and grow it, or do many of the things that you do so well. Believe it or not, they look up to you. They watch everything that you do, and you are setting the example for them. Don’t allow yourself to fall into complacency, believing that they see you like “one of them.” Because they don’t, no matter how much they say they do, or how much you try to be one of them.

Your influence on them is far beyond what you think it is. They will emulate you. They will worry if you seem distant or troubled. The part you play as CEO is crucial to their success. They need to know you are involved, interested, and thoughtful. Culture starts at the top, so that means that you, as the very top person in the organization, set the tone for everyone else. Don’t underestimate the impact your image has on your staff. Always be cognizant of the way they see you and act accordingly.

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Why Do You Have To Be The Smartest Guy In The Room?

One of the curses of being a CEO is that we think we know more than everyone else. Although we deny this over and over again, and we make bold statements such as “I always hire people smarter than me,” or “I surround myself with people who know more than I do,” the reality is that we don’t act that way. I have worked with dozens of CEOs who claimed they deferred to their better educated, more informed staff, yet demonstrated a disregard for their staff’s ideas by always trying to add value.

How Does One “Add Value”?

Adding value is when we take a person’s idea and try to make it better by adding our own contribution to it. We simply can’t resist making their idea even better!

Here is how it works: Your VP of marketing comes into your office with a recommendation to increase the advertising budget to include some new website ads. You look her right in the eye and say “That’s a great idea…but you know what would make it even better? Let’s do such and such….”

Basically, you just told her that her idea was crap, and that you have a better idea, or at least that’s how she sees it. How do you think she feels about herself, about the job she’s doing, and about how you see her? If you want people to stop bringing you good ideas, then crush their spirit by telling them how to make them better.

Taking A Step Back

It’s funny, but we just seem compelled to do this. We have to take every idea, concept, and recommendation, and improve upon it. Yet we brag about how we hire such smart people. If they’re so smart, why do we keep “helping” them with our input?

As a CEO, there are times when you have to keep your mouth shut, even when you really believe an idea can be improved upon. Let the person enjoy their moment. Allow them the opportunity to present something and have it stand on its own. There is plenty of time later to “tweak” it. And if you are really good at what you do, you can find ways to suggest improvements and have your staff think it was their idea. Here are a few recommendations on how to improve an idea without you directly adding your own value to it:

  • You can hold a meeting with several others and ask the group to discuss and enhance the idea.
  • You can have committees or working groups that review ideas and discuss how to implement them.
  • You can even ask the person who came up with the idea to go back and come up with two or three ways to improve it (there is always something else that can be thought of, even by the original author or inventor).

The lesson here is that your desire to add value to another person’s idea might make you feel good, but it makes the other person feel crushed. Hold back, bite your tongue, and let your people have their moment to bask in the sun. There are other opportunities to improve the idea without your “contribution.”