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CEO Isolation
By Gary Lockwood

You've heard the phrase, "It's lonely at the top". What does that really mean? One aspect of business life that top executives rarely discuss is their isolation.

When you are the Chief Executive Officer of the company, whether it's  a start-up or a multi-million dollar enterprise, who do you talk to about  really important issues? If you're like most CEOs, there are just some  things you can't share with employees, friends or even partners.

Think about a sensitive strategic issue you've had to face in the past  year. Maybe you were (or still are) thinking about:

bulletselling the company
bulletbringing in or replacing a top executive
bulletmerging or acquiring

Most likely, you won't share these types of issues with employees. They have so much at stake they'll not give you good, objective  feedback. You might even cause an unnecessary panic or at least  a lively rumor mill. Even if you could discuss these kinds of issues  with key employees, they don't have the perspective you have on  the company and your vision for the company.

Discussing these sensitive decisions with friends or family might  make you feel good, but what's the possibility that you will receive  solid, unbiased feedback on your ideas? They probably don't know  your company or your industry well enough to give you advice. Many  of these well-meaning people may not have been in a CEO position  and therefore don't understand your perspective on the issues at  hand. And some of them may just tell you what you want to hear in  order to make you feel better. Don't count on the people closest to  you for help with true change - especially in the beginning.

Your advisors - attorneys, CPAs and consultants - usually have an  agenda of their own. Can you blame them if they slant their input  just a little to put them in position for keeping or expanding their  engagement with your company?

If your decision is concerning your partner(s), you obviously can't  openly and objectively explore the issue with her/him.

So, what do you do? Most CEOs just keep it to themselves. You  probably spend a lot of time - and more than a few sleepless  nights - pondering the pros and cons of these significant issues.  If it's a "bet-the-farm" decision, the stress of going it alone can be  overwhelming.

Many top executives describe this as feeling "totally alone" or "me  against the world". Lonely at the top? You bet it is! The toll is often  health-damaging stress, strained personal relationships, lack of  focus on the rest of your business responsibilities, and perhaps  a decision that costs you the enterprise.

What's the solution? You have a few practical possibilities that can  provide you a knowledgeable sounding board, agenda-free advice,  timely response and probing questions that truly challenge your thinking.

One possibility is to join a peer-level board-of-advisors group. These  are groups of CEOs who, like you, have the ultimate responsibility for  decisions in their enterprise. Like you, they know what it's like when  you must make payroll every week.

When you can gather 12-15 CEOs together where there are no  competitors, customers or suppliers, and where each person is  pledged to confidentiality, you have the opportunity to get substantive  feedback unlike any you'll ever hear. This works especially well when  you have a professional facilitator to keep the discussion moving  forward and on track.

Imagine what it would be like for you to have such a group of peers  where you could bring your issue to the table. How would you  describe to them your current dilemma? What would you ask them?

Chances are that at least a few of these experienced CEOs have  been down the path you are traveling. Some of them already have  the battle scars and can help steer you away from disaster. Perhaps  the pointed questions from this group could help you clarify your  thinking or even disclose that the issue you are pursuing is not even  the real issue. If you can handle the deep, probing questions, you'll  sharpen your thinking. It's like Tough Love for CEOs.

Another solution for CEO isolation is a business coach. Many  people have a personal trainer for their body. Why not have a coach  for your mind? Using a coach is the latest way for people to get  ahead in today's crazy business world.

People at all stages of professional development need coaches  to help them. Chief executives frequently use coaches to bounce  ideas around; entrepreneurs use their coach to help them think  strategically about the business, and coaches help others sort out  career decisions. Emerson once said, “we all need someone who  can help us to do what we already can.”

People use coaches for two basic reasons:

bulletSome people seek coaches to help them develop a balance  between their personal and professional lives.
bulletOthers want a coach to help them become more productive in  their business or help increase their earnings.

A Coach can be your sounding board, support system, “devils  advocate", cheerleader and teammate all rolled into one. Bottom  line; the task of a coach is helping you realize your full potential.

Good business coaches usually have special training in listening  and questioning skills. They can hold a mirror up to your decisions,  actions and your thinking so you can see the impact and all the  facets of implications.

Whether you join a peer advisor group or hire a business coach,  take action to relieve the isolation. Running an enterprise should  be challenging, exciting, rewarding and fun. It doesn't have to be lonely at the top.

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Gary Lockwood is Your Business Coach. Contact Gary for a FREE report  on "Getting Breakthroughs in your business".  (909) 739-7444  * Fax: (909) 494-4314   Email: * Web:

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