The results are in: A spring 2018 study by Egon Zehnder (a global executive search firm) confirmed that most CEOs admit they have no idea what they’re doing at the water cooler.
The study surveyed over 400 leaders from 11 countries and found that corporate heads felt far less prepared for the interpersonal aspects of their role, when compared to the strategic or business aspects. Most CEOs expected that demands on their time and others’ expectations of them would be higher, but nearly half said they underestimated the difficulty of developing management and motivating employees.
CEOs are company captains – responsible for navigating and advancing company culture. So it’s not surprising that in such a high-stakes leadership role, good interpersonal skills are perhaps more important than professional/technical skills. And this isn’t lost on most corporate chiefs. Most CEOs surveyed were outspoken about their desire to work on their own personal development – understanding its contribution to personal and organizational success.
So, given that as you rise in an organization, your technical skills will start to matter less than your interpersonal skills, how do you assess how well you’re doing? And what you do about any gaps?
Here are three things to consider:
- Tell people you are interested in their feedback. Don’t wait for them to offer — ask for it. Show appreciation when they share with you anything about your interpersonal style. Reflect on it. Take notes. Encourage people to give you feedback in the moment. Keep in mind that due to your formal authority, there will always be people who are intimidated and may not share honest feedback with you. That’s why it’s so important to show appreciation right away to those who do.
- Conduct a 360-degree assessment. Learning what others think through a formal assessment can provide valuable information you wouldn’t get any other way. Be prepared for both the positive strokes and also some frank feedback about your style. Make sure whatever assessment you use covers key leadership competencies. This will typically cover the interpersonal realm.
- Get an informal “board of advisors” together. Ask key contacts/friends outside of your organization if they would serve on a “board of advisors” for you. The goal is to make sure that – outside of work – you have people you can talk with openly and honestly about what’s happening inside of work. Talk with them in advance about key meetings or conversations you need to have to get their feedback about how to conduct them as effectively as possible. Also, you can talk with them after both positive and negative interactions to get their view of what you did well and might do better.
Although it can be sobering to hear honest feedback about your style, and it can be hard work to improve, it’s ultimately worth it — gaining followership and motivating others can make your leadership life a lot easier in the future.
Question: Who has had the most impact on your leadership style? No need to use names, but share any wisdom they imparted on you and why it made an impact.