It’s lonely at the top, but it’s not boring. You get bombarded with information from all directions. Everybody is trying to influence you. As a strategic advisor, a big part of my job is to help CEOs get rid of the background noise, look at the critical issues in bright light and make actionable decisions. In just about every case, my client knows the right answer, but noise gets in the way. I help fix that.
A few years ago, I was talking to a prominent CEO who was telling me about some important opportunities that were being missed. As he told story after story, it became clear that two members of his leadership team were not effective. The only solution was to replace these two individuals with real leaders. As we finished the discussion, he thanked me profusely for helping solve a difficult problem the answer to which suddenly seemed so obvious. I chuckled to myself. He knew the right answer all along but needed my objective advice and perspective to recognize it in a way that allowed him to act.
Recently, I was meeting with a CEO who was trying to sort among different priorities. His company was looking at several exciting new opportunities and he wasn’t sure how to prioritize between these opportunities and existing business demands. As we talked, it immediately became obvious which areas of the existing business were losing importance and therefore should be run tightly for current financial return and which still had future growth potential. We also were able to assess the relative potential of these existing growth opportunities and future ones. Quickly, with my help, he assembled a set of guiding principles to discuss with his leadership team and then the Board. I had given him no fresh data, just a few powerful analogies and the freedom to filter out distractions and make real progress.
Maybe it’s not so lonely at the top after all. Rather, it’s just blurry from a cacophony of information. My job is to help create a simple symphony allowing my clients to hear clear notes and act on them.