CEOs and the zone of safety

Big Red Car here, ya’ll.  House sitter and I been having a damn wild time with The Boss in the Big Apple.  [Do not tell The Boss but we’ve been cruising the ATX and the Hill Country and been down to San Antone to Mi Tierra for some real Tex Mex.  Ahhhh, burp.  Ooops, sorry.]

So The Boss before he left for THE City, was talking with a couple of his CEOs, brilliant all of them.  Hell, even the Big Red Car thinks they’re brilliant.

Convo gets around to what does a CEO need, require and expect.  Sure we heard a bit about Vision, Mission, yada, yada, yada.

No, Old Sport, what a CEO desperately needs is a ZONE OF SAFETY in which he can unburden himself, engage in a useful and candid dialogue and ponder his and his company’s future without fear of reprisal or judgment or criticism.  He needs a Zone of Freakin’ Safety.

Where are we going to find that precious Zone of Safety, Big Red Car?

So, the Big Red Car will tell you of a couple or more places you CAN find it:

1.  Peer to peer groups like Young Presidents’ Organization when you qualify;

2.  Personal networks; and,

3.  CEO advisers when competent and experienced.

Where do you NOT want to look:

1.  Investors or Venture Capitalists whose umbrage can result in the CEO getting canned;

2.  Board members who have a fiduciary obligation to all shareholders and who can fire you; and,

3.  Anyone who does not have the CEO’s interests — her personal interests — at heart.

The role of a CEO adviser

A good CEO adviser — and, folks, there are not really very many good CEO advisers out there — will be someone who has actually been a CEO for some protracted period of time.  Beware of folks who do not have real CEO experience.

The Boss has been a CEO for over 33 years and sometimes, in a quiet moment, he will admit that he is still learning.  [Now, the Big Red Car thinks this may be just a splash of false modesty as The Boss is pretty damn salty and has seen just about everything you can imagine having run fairly good sized private companies and a public company for more than a decade.]

A good CEO adviser is going to provide that Zone of Safety and will adhere to certain protocols that will ensure that the CEO is provided with the best possible service.

Here are some important considerations:

1.  The CEO adviser works solely for the CEO and not the Board, investors, VCs or anyone else who could theoretically fire the CEO.  [Pro tip:  CEOs, never, ever confide something to a Board member, investor or VC that could theoretically get you fired.  Tell it to your CEO coach.]

2.  The experienced CEO coach has been where you are right now and understands the realities of running a company.  Do not hire someone who is learning on your nickel.  Hire an adviser with real CEO experience.

3.  The CEO adviser does NOT assign homework or make your job more difficult.  Au contraire, Old Sport, the good CEO adviser makes your job easier.  He coaxes performance out of you, he does not command it.  He applies a gentle hand.  He is a pressure relief valve.

4.  The CEO adviser is able to provide you with usable and tested exemplars — forms, processes, documents — which are battle tested.  You need a good example of a strategic plan?  A competent CEO adviser has one you can look at.

5.  The  CEO adviser can talk you down off the ledge and ultimately teach you how to talk yourself down off the ledge.  Much of what a good CEO adviser does is to give you an alternative to taking counsel of only your fears.  He knows what it is like to walk through the fire and survive.

The permissions

A good CEO coach helps you give yourself permission to succeed, fail, enjoy life and not to be perfect.  A good CEO coach keeps you from making good the enemy of perfect.

The collective impact of all of this is to create a Zone of Safety into which the CEO can retreat when she needs to do just that.  To refit, rearm, to re-organize and to re-join the fray.  To fight and win.  To become the best CEO you can.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway?  I’m just a Big Red Car. 



6 thoughts on “CEOs and the zone of safety

  1. Hi JLM

    Had to work this one out for myself (and so glad I did) – but Im sure it will help a lot of people who are suffering “running around like a headless chicken” – now I reserve that behaviour for special friends!

    • .
      Hey, James, yes many folks will do just that.

      When The Boss was in the military, it was quite common for a very senior officer to take a junior officer under his wing.

      The Boss had the great fortune of having such a mentor in the form of a MG who took an interest in The Boss.

      The Boss used to go pheasant hunting and fishing with this General. The chats they had and the lessons that were imparted were unbelievable. Sitting there around a hunt fire listening to the MG tell the story of fighting the Chinese in the Korean War, wow!

      Today you are in the position to be that same guy.


  2. This sounds a bit like Crucial Conversations, and creating a safe space to talk. No safety means you can’t talk about content. Work on that safety until you have enough to dive into content. Then you will get to the heart of the matter.

Comments are closed.