The Value of Challenging The CEO

There’s real value in challenging the CEO as a Coach.

It’s very common to regard the CEO as the ultimate authority, the captain steering the ship. And who wants to challenge the captain as an employee? With that comes the fear of rocking the ship, upsetting the apple cart, causing trouble by challenging authority. There is a fear of losing their job, removing a role or having responsibilities stripped.

Challenging the CEO may seem counterintuitive to some, but it’s a practice that can lead to beneficial outcomes. And good leadership encourages everyone’s voice, not just a few. This approach cultivates a culture of open dialogue, where employees feel empowered to voice their concerns, ideas, and solutions.

It also encourages creative thinking. Albert Einstein once said,

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

And by questioning a company’s status quo and involving others with fresh ideas, we can spark innovative solutions to existing problems and identify new opportunities.

Avoiding Groupthink

Challenging the CEO also helps to prevent ‘groupthink’, a phenomenon where a group’s desire for harmony or conformity results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. I always recommend the works of Patrick Lencioni, business management author. He talks about

“The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.”

Patrick Lencioni

And he’s right: by providing a platform for dissent, companies can avoid this pitfall and make more informed decisions.

And this is where I play a pivotal role in the ongoing strategy of the company. I can challenge the CEO, as I am far enough removed from the management team, direct employees and those who are hesitant in ‘not biting the hand that feeds you’. I can really get to the deep-rooted problems and to help come up with solutions that employees may have seemed hesitant on raising with the boss.

James Akin-Smith Challenging The CEO: James and a coachee on the beach during a coaching session

When I have an initial meeting with the CEO, I try and get them to NOT talk to me in corporate speak. I try to get them to be brutally honest with themselves, because if they’re not, they’re not being true to themselves, and we’re wasting our time. Because I’m just trying to get to the crux of their issues, and to find a solution. I don’t hold back in pushing them. I find that most of my clients like that high-level challenge. They find it beneficial. I realised this about seven years ago when a client (who I had pushed) said “I really like it when you challenge me.”

And so, I dialled it up. That’s when my business really grew – because nobody else around the CEO does that. Not the accountant, not the law team. That’s my job as a coach.

The CEO barrier

One of the problems is that the CEO invariably still holds a barrier against help: a control, a defence mechanism that just doesn’t allow them from entertaining thoughts and ideas from their employees. And this is where I, the plan B takes place; an outsourced process as an independent voice that echoes the employees’ thoughts and gives further suggestions from experience and knowledge at a similar level. A coach that also makes the CEO feel comfortable, enabling them to take constructive criticism and to keep it on board.

When this is done constructively and respectfully, it creates an environment where different perspectives are not only tolerated but embraced. It’s a practice that empowers employees to contribute their best, ultimately benefiting the business’s growth and prosperity.

Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs famously said:

“Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realised something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem.”

Steve Jobs

Speaking to me as a coach can address some issues within their company, allowing them to foster a different leadership approach, and in turn welcoming this manner of work culture that they now want – introducing innovation and ideas within their internal team.

Challenging the CEO can also realise new ideas and conquer indecisiveness. For some, their business has grown rapidly, and it has become ‘too much’. They are relied upon to make decisions for the management team and now have lost confidence make them. I help them to regain that confidence and feel stronger as a decision-maker.

And of course, that in turn helps to strengthen the organisation. It’s a strategy that can drive success, encourage innovation, and keep the business ahead in today’s competitive landscape.

But do CEOs think they need to be challenged?

I very much agree with a Leadership consultant Roberta Matuson, who writes in Forbes:

“Having an expert who will listen, reflect, ask you tough questions, be candid, and challenge your thinking is critical for business success. If you think an advisor is too costly, think again. The real cost is what happens if you do nothing, and your business fails.”

Roberta Matuson

This perfectly describes my clients’ experiences of coaching. One client, Richard Isaacs, Wessex Country Gammons Ltd gave this feedback:

“At the time we considered coaching expensive, but now I see how expensive it would have been not to have it.”

Richard Isaacs – James Akin-Smith Coachee

Accept the challenge. Strengthen your business. Contact us.

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