Effective Leadership for CEOs

Mardy Grothe




How effectively is your executive team working together? Most CEOs would say not as well as they would like. The average CEO tends to place problems at the feet of another individual. When struggling with an interpersonal problem, most people think the problem lay with the other person.


Externalizing is the tendency when struggling with another person to minimize or whitewash your behavior and see the other person as the cause of the problem.


AU of us are inept managers. As Peter Drucker said, “Strong people have strong weaknesses.” Most CEOs have one to five solid strengths that make them successful, but each has at least one fatal flaw, a gaping weakness. Most of us are not paying attention to our flaws.




There is only one way to solve a personal or business relationship problem: sit down to talk and listen as you haven’t listened before. Open up a line of communication. You have to fight the tendency to counter, rebut, or get defensive.


A problem is capable of either resolution or greater definition. But even important business problems can’t be solved if the leader is a nonstop talker and a controlling tyrant and another member isn’t trusted. The issues won’t get dealt with effectively unless they are discussed.


Chances are your listening skills are not good. Generally, men fall into a “C” or lower grade range. Women tend to be more relationship oriented than men, while men tend to be more success oriented. Many women base success on being in a relationship. The average man defines his self-worth on the basis of how successful he is in life. Men’s relationship orientation is not even as high as the average woman’s success orientation.




The condition of a relationship can be tracked by way of its own “vital signs.” The vital signs to monitor in a relationship are trust, respect, affection, and confidence. Mr. Grothe refers to these as “TRAC.”



Think about someone you are struggling with professionally and someone you have difficulty with personally. On a scale from zero to 10, TRAC-rate them. How much do you trust them; i.e., how emotionally safe do you feel with them? How much do you respect them? Affection is a likability factor. How much confidence do you have the person will follow through? Contrasted with trust, confidence has a performance dimension.


What TRAC ratings would you get from the other person? There is a tremendous discrepancy between what we give ourselves and what others give us. Reasons for the gap:


  1. We don’t see ourselves as other people see us.
  2. We are insulated from feedback. People you have control over do not tell you what they really think of you; they tell you what they think you want to hear or they don’t say anything. The person who is honest with the CEO usually doesn’t work with that person for long. Most companies are started by people who quit their other jobs out of disgust or were fired by someone who couldn’t take the person’s courage and candidness.
  3. Most people have a well-developed capacity for self-deception. Even people with poor self-images have a great capacity for self-deception. We tend not to be hard on ourselves. We remember what someone did to us more often than what we did to another.

Ask your business partner to use TRAC to tell you how he feels about you. Discuss how much he trusts you and in which area he doesn’t. Have him explain where he respects you and where he doesn’t. Complete the rest of the TRAC-rating.

An evaluation of behavior can include questions such as these: Are you a good team player? Do you use your time effectively? Are you trustworthy?

As you listen, your partner’s TRAC ratings may inch up. He may seem interested and committed. The vital signs in your relationship may improve.

There are two relationship skills: listening and talking. Good listening creates good talking. When someone listens, we are more honest and sensitive.





Baggage from the past from family, experience, etc. creates problems. What do you do when you have a whole group with all their baggage? As the leader, you have the hardest job in the company. You carry a powerful emotional role in people’s lives. Their salaries, careers, and self-worth depend on how you judge them. You probably don’t realize the critically important role you play in the lives of others. Because you don’t realize it, you make management mistakes. “People in power sin more,” Nietzsche said. You may not praise someone who did something great, or you may say something to criticize an individual and not realize how much it hurt.


You may do things that upset people. The problem is not who is responsible; the problem occurs when you don’t realize you have upset someone, and they aren’t able to talk to you about it.


You have needs also, and there may be few people in your life who meet your needs. Your spouse may not realize what kind of stress you are under.



Sins of commission are the things you do and shouldn’t, such as being verbally abusive, tyrannical, and having volcanic outbursts.


Managers’ sins are often sins of omission. You may avoid talking to a person directly about problems. You may want everything to be “nice.” In that situation, others observe you hiding and doing nothing about the problem. People want their leaders to be problem solvers, not problem avoiders. They lose respect and confidence in the leader if he is abdicating his responsibility.





When you have an employee performance issue, try looking at the situation as you might in a personal relationship. How would you handle it? The only time a rational business approach is used in personal relationships is in a patriarchal family. That typical model of “hero management” doesn’t belong in families or in organizations.


Asking another person to change doesn’t work. It may work in tyrannical cultures in which lives are threatened, but outside an authoritarian atmosphere it is not effective.


Ask yourself these questions: What is the individual’s motivation? Why should he change just because you want him to? What is in it for him?





Chances are the person won’t change his behavior until you do something for him. Rather than asking the individual to change, ask what you can do to be a better person and make the relationship more satisfying and less frustrating.


Agree to the persons suggestion and do it for a month. The person may ask what he can do in return. If you have met the person’s need first, the chance that they will change increases from 50% to 80%.


Apply this technique to family tensions. In a situation with teenagers, identify their positive qualities. Tell them what those are. Then ask what you can do to make things more satisfying and less frustrating.


In an employee situation, go to the employee and explain that both of you are struggling in the relationship with each other. Don’t make it a performance problem. Keep it as a relationship issue. When you define the person as the problem, the individual is in a no-win situation. If he improves, it makes you right.


Explain that if the situation is going to work, you will both need to make modifications in what you are doing with each other. Ask what you can do to make his job more satisfying and less frustrating. Ask what you can do to be a better boss. There may be some unresolved issues the person has with you.


Don’t end a relationship before you attempt to improve it. However, there may be a limit you reach when the situation won’t work.




If you have team management, other members can provide feedback to an employee you are concerned about. This takes the focus away from the private relationship between you and the one employee. You aren’t the only one saying there are problems.


Get the team together, including the person you have been frustrated with, and have everyone discuss what they think you do well as the CEO. What do they like, admire, and respect about you? Then have them tell you one thing you could do to improve as a CEO.


Go. through the same process with the other team members. The individual can see that the others aren’t perfect and aren’t defensive about it. The person is acting as a member of the team and is praised for his capabilities. Because he has been built up, he is then ready to hear some suggestions and the areas needing improvement.




You want to be delicate in how you handle giving feedback. How would you want to be treated as the employee? Without a professional facilitator, the danger of this model is that it can become like an encounter session. Look at the model as a process, not a one-time event. The approach is very fundamental; it’s the heart and soul of the Golden Rule. It is important to realize the techniques have to come from the heart or they will backfire. Don’t take the approach unless you believe in it.


You can explain to the person that you are awkward in trying this new technique. Most bosses posture as if they know what they are doing. Instead, be candid and approach the employee or family member with the sense that you are giving something a try because it might help both of you.


If you agree to do something, follow through. It ruins the other person’s motivation if he follows through on what he says he will do and you don’t. It’s better to say you want to think about what you may do, rather than commit to it. State if you have problems agreeing to particular behavior.


Sometimes relationships that seem to be over can be recovered with the right techniques. It is not that the people haven’t tried, but their coping mechanisms may have been learned in their original families and may be not be constructive.


Effective Leadership for CEOs by Mardy Grothe