September 9, 2009
Two things have come up in spades lately for me that are frustrations for me as a CEO of a high growth company. These are both people related — an area that's always been the cornerstone of my leadership patterns. That probably makes them even more frustrating.
Frustration 1: Worrying that I don't get completely candid feedback from deep in the organization. I've always relied on direct interactions with junior staff and personal observation and data collection in order to get a feel for what's going on. But a couple times lately, people had been warning me (for the first time) when I've relayed feedback with comments like, "Of course you heard that — you're the CEO. People will tell you what they think you want to hear."
So now the paranoid Matt kicks in a bit. Can I actually trust the feedback I'm getting? I think I can. I always have. I think I'm a good judge of character and am able to read between the lines and filter comments and input and responses to questions I ask. But maybe this gets harder as the organization grows and as personal connections to me are necessarily fewer and farther between. I probably need to start recognizing that as the CEO, people may feel uncomfortable being totally open…and it is my job to figure out how to be sure people understand that I do want to hear their voices…unplugged and constructive.
Frustration 2: Needing to be increasingly careful with what I say and how I say it. This comes up in two different ways. First, I want to make sure that while I'm still providing as transparent leadership as I can, that I'm not saying something that's going to freak out a more junior staff member because they're missing context or might misinterpret what I'm saying. Ok, this one I can manage.
But the tougher angle on this is having unintended impact on people. Throwing out a casual idea in a conversation with someone in the company can easily lead to a chain reaction of "Matt said" and "I need to redo my goals" conversations that aren't what I meant. So I'm doing some work to formalize feedback and communication loops when I have skip-level check-ins, but it's creating more process and thought overhead for me than I'm used to.
Nothing is bad here – just signs of a growing organization – but some definite changes in how I need to behave in order to keep being a strong and successful leader.