Is your CEO drunk on power?

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Leaders typically become more self-assured as they ascend within an organisation but one executive coach says over-confidence can quickly cloud a person’s judgment when it’s left unchecked.

“When you get into positions of power, you get more decision-making authority and with all of this authority comes people who start to slightly fawn over you,” says MIchelle Gibbings, former HR head turned corporate advisor.

“They’re trying to court your favour so they agree with you all of the time and you start to think everything you’re doing is right and it’s easy to fall into the trap of not listening to people anymore.”

According to Gibbings, as soon as leaders stop listening to the ideas and opinions of other people around them, it spells disaster for the organisation.

“When you’re drunk on power, you think you’ve got all the answers and that can lead to issues in the organisation in terms of how decisions are made,” she tells HRD.

“If you trace back through history and look at organisations that have failed, often at the root cause of that failure is the arrogance and hubris of leaders who have not listened to other people.”

So, what happens if a senior HR professional suspects their CEO or someone in the senior leadership team is drunk on power?

“It ultimately depends on their relationship with the person but what I would encourage them to have a one-on-one conversation with them and to get them starting to see the impact of their behaviour on those around them as well as the organisation,” says Gibbings.

“In an ideal environment, an HR director would have a close confidant relationship with the CEO so if they’re seeing that the CEO is ignoring opinions that really should be considered then the HR director can address it.”

Rather than overtly suggesting the CEO is inebriated by power, Gibbings says HR professionals can take a more tactful approach by simply asking a few questions.

“If they’re making decisions, I’d be curious and ask questions about how the decision was made, who was involved and if there were other people that could have been involved,” she says.

“It’s not necessarily telling the CEO what to do, it’s asking questions to help them realise that, going forward, they may need to think differently or involve other people in the decision-making process.”

When it comes to complex issues that need to be solved, Gibbings says it can also be beneficial to figure out exactly who should be involved in the process from the outset.

“Be really clear, and determine who should be involved in this decision making process then also make sure you’ve got the stakeholders from different backgrounds so you get different perspectives,” she tells HRD. “If you do that right up front then it means it’s going to flow through to the rest of the decision-making process.”


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