The most important lesson I’ve learned is that I don’t always know. Period. That the minute I think I know something, I’d better think again.
Now, I know this lesson flies in the face of conventional wisdom. We’re wired to just know, right? My first grade teacher, Mrs. Johnson, taught me it’s always best to know the answer to the question being asked.
That was a great strategy for learning the alphabet, but not for when you’re running a company.
Things became very clear when my CFO told me that he and I almost always see things differently. Me: Huh? I’d always thought of myself as a great listener and open to everyone’s suggestions… as long as in the end the best solution is chosen (which just happened to always be mine (wink)).
In that instant, I began to face how having to always know the answer was, in fact, a liability versus an asset. As entrepreneurs, of course we think our ideas are always the best. Well, at least I do. But here’s what I had to accept: They’re not. It’s not as if I don’t have good ideas – but the team around me has ideas worth considering too.
Here’s where it gets lonely.
I needed to stop and take a long hard look at myself. I know self-investigation isn’t such a fun exercise, but I believe it’s actually the most important work a CEO can do. If you don’t, you’re never going to learn your blind spots. It’s challenging running a company without having the whole picture… you’re not always aware of the filters you’re listening through. And you might be filtering out the most important part.
One of the biggest mistakes CEOs can make is thinking they need to know everything. They don’t! Instead, good CEOs listen to the people around them, their supporters, until they hear the right answers.
I know the business world may be resistant to admitting this, but there’s more going on than what meets the eyes. Listening to the unsaid is every bit as important, if not more, than what is being said. The trick is to be in tune with what’s going on around you and not put your individual spin on things too quickly.
Here are three important steps a CEO can take to avoid being lonely at the top:
Listen to those around you
Hear what your team has to say from their perspective, not just from yours; it’s the only way you can understand what they’re trying to communicate. Think of the expression, “Walk a mile in their shoes”.
It’s important to consistently be looking at yourself. How can you change so that your company changes? A big mistake leaders make is to look outward for solutions, whereas a great leader always looks inward. What could you be doing differently to reach your company’s goals?
Empower your team
A great CEO knows that it’s not solely their job to come up with brilliant ideas, but instead to empower those around them. Getting too wrapped up in needing to have all the answers will not only limit creativity, but also disempower your team. All team members have the need to contribute, and it’s the job of the CEO to find the best way to let them.
Create an environment where everyone’s voice is heard, because it gets lonely hearing only your voice.
For 30 years, L. Drew Gerber has been inspiring those who want to change the world. As the CEO of Wasabi Publicity, lauded by the likes of PR Week and Good Morning America, he sparks “aha” conversations that lead to personal and business success. His PR firm is known for landing clients on Dr. Phil, Oprah, Anderson Cooper, the Wall Street Journal, Inc., Entrepreneur, and other top media outlets. Wasabi Publicity lives to launch conversations that make a difference and change the world. Contact Drew at AskDrew@PublicityResults.com or visit his blog at www.DestinationAha.com.
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