By Ian Sampson
Loneliness in decision making at the top is generally recognised as a phenomenon of modern business life. But support is rarely accessed when those at the top of an organisation feel they have to deal with complex matters, just relying on their own resources.
While CEO’s, Chairs, and senior executives spend their days with people, solving, representing, promoting, managing, creating and doing all the myriad of things that make up a busy day, they sometimes are faced with issues that they cannot discuss with colleagues, professional advisors or even within their families. This is a strange and often dangerous place to be: surrounded by others but unable to draw on their guidance and support because of the highly delicate nature of the issue. Sometimes the issues concern colleagues. Sometimes they are about a deeply personal dilemma. Sometimes they are highly sensitive and strategic.
Recently I worked on just such an issue with the CEO of an ASX listed company. We met away from the office and over four hours developed a plan to take up a $200m investment in a new area of activity and to do it in a way that also provided great personal satisfaction for the CEO. The complexity came from the interweaving of two goals. The solution emerged by decoupling them, working through the best solution for each and then recombining them into a coherent plan.
Often complex issues can be unravelled like this to make them more tractable. Sometimes they are so complex that ways have to be found to just cope with the mess until a solution emerges.
These kinds of conversations can be short or long. My shortest has been 15 minutes and we came up with an outcome that initially shocked the other person but then delighted them. On other occasions the time horizon of conversations can spread over many weeks or months as their complexity unfolds.
Einstein is credited with saying that “no problem was ever solved with the same consciousness that developed it”. Working with a trusted advisor can produce new insights and understandings that build creative solutions to seemingly intractable situations.
In each of these situations the aim is to create the conditions where transformational outcomes can emerge both in relation to the issue itself and often for the other person to experience for themselves. I have also learnt that this kind of specialised work requires various skills like deep listening, coaching and the ability to give careful and considered advice.
You may be a CEO struggling in your relationship with the Chairman of the Board. Perhaps you a Board Chairman confronted with a fellow director who is acting against the agreed business strategy. Or you could be a senior executive unable to flag a financial impropriety for fear it will bring down the organisation and your own career with it.
Sure issues such as these can be deeply worrying – but you don’t have to deal with them alone!