What Anonymous Advice Would You Give to Your CEO?

February 5, 2019
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What do those who work the closest with CEOs, those on their senior teams, really want their leader to change? We analyzed feedback from 174 C-suite level executives from 40 different organizations gathered between 2015–2018 as part of RHR’s Senior Team Effectiveness Survey. We found that when given the opportunity to provide anonymous feedback to their bosses, members of the top team focused the most on the following advice: (1) be more transparent, (2) help us stay focused, (3) hold us accountable, (4) spend more time coaching and developing us, and (5) be decisive.

1. Increase transparency to engage and develop the top team

While effective communication tends to be a top feedback theme for many executives, CEO teams desire more transparency. There is a sense that the leader may be holding back, even if unintentionally, and they want more transparency to understand and learn the rationale for decisions and actions. As part of consistent open and honest dialogue, team members also want their voices to be heard and not fall on deaf ears.

Examples of feedback:

  • Keep communicating! Try to be a bit more transparent. You can be really hard to read.
  • Listen more and understand the value derived from the experience of the team.
  • I wish the CEO would spend more time making transparent his criteria for success rather than weighing in on the details.
  • Be open about sharing your expectations with us. This will ensure trust in you as a leader and enforce the respect we have for you.

2. Increase focus on strategy and prioritization

Choosing what to ultimately focus on and staying the course is no easy feat. Nevertheless, team members encourage CEOs to push for a clear strategy and to help them define and refine a limited number of priorities aligned with the strategy to stay focused.

Examples of feedback:

  • Needs to stay more focused and prioritize better.
  • Spend much more time on the overall strategy of the company.
  • Focus on the strategy, people, activities, and priorities to ensure we drive the right results and achieve the best profitability.
  • Help us focus on the strategic roadmap of where we need to go rather than only financials.

3. Foster greater ownership and accountability

In addition to helping the team stay focused on clear priorities, holding them accountable was another piece of advice provided by those in the C-suite to their CEOs. Ultimately it is the CEO’s job to make sure leaders are aligned on expectations and held accountable for following through on their commitments.

Examples of feedback:

  • Do a better job of holding the team and individuals accountable for performance.
  • Drive more accountability at the senior level.
  • When we fail, we need to have an honest discussion about why, and someone needs to take responsibility. We need more accountability to outcomes.
  • Where possible, work to align applicable members of your team to a clear and focused set of expectations and focus on holding them accountable.

4. Coach and develop

Senior team members also chose to anonymously ask their CEOs to spend more time on coaching and development. They look to their leader to not only lead them but to spend the necessary time providing guidance on how they can improve as a leader.

Examples of feedback:

  • Care more about people than process; leadership is about helping people reach places they didn’t know they could go.
  • Invest in more one-on-one time with each team member to help them develop and grow.
  • Spend quality time with team members, share your expectations, coach, and grow them.
  • Improve feedback to individual members. Take an active interest in team member development. Support resources needed to deliver goals. Ensure all team members’ skills are fully used.

5. Improve decision making

Decision-making is a critical aspect of leadership, so it is no surprise that senior team members advised CEOs to work on its various aspects. The importance of decision-making was recently highlighted in a blog post written in conjunction with my colleague David Astorino. From confidently making tough decisions to empowering the team to make decisions, many team members felt that their CEOs had areas of decision-making that could be improved.

Examples of feedback:

  • Be clear when you have made up your mind about something.
  • Bring more of the senior team into key decision-making processes and bring them in much earlier in the process.
  • Empower your smart teammates to come up with solutions.
  • Take more decisive action.
  • Not all decisions need consensus. In some areas where you’ve made your mind up, it’s faster and more effective just to say what you decided and move on.

The advice anonymously provided to CEOs by their team reflects the key actions of senior leadership. The data collected underscores the importance of communication, setting strategy and prioritization, accountability, coaching and development, and decision making for CEOs and their senior teams. When CEOs take steps to improve in these five areas, they can more broadly help their teams be more effective in these areas as well.

This appears on the Chief Executive website.

Roxanne Levenberg is an analytics consultant at RHR International. Roxanne Levenberg plays a vital role in helping leaders across industries make better-informed, data-driven decisions every day.