Communicating with the CEO
What’s the job of a CEO? When you come down to it, a CEO’s job is to make decisions. The right decisions. Knowing your CEO’s priorities is key to communicating effectively.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Many business leaders climb the corporate ladder using a path that requires more “fast, heuristic-based” thinking than “technical, algorithmic analysis.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing!
Business schools teach you to define key metrics and then find solutions that optimize those metrics seeking to maximize expected value. But executives more often prefer to maximize likely profits from among possibilities with acceptable downside potential. This approach works well for executives who must make decisions quickly—especially when not all of the variables can readily be quantified. So it’s no surprise that many CEOs make use of it.
The point of communication isn’t to speak. It’s to be heard and understood— to have influence and motivate action.Effective communication requires knowing what information you want to convey and what action you want to motivate, but that’s not enough. You must also know your audience—in this case CEOs—well enough to determine what factors will truly resonate and motivate them to take the desired action based on your information.
It’s a good idea, for example, to have a sense of the CEO’s thinking style, decision process and risk attitude.
Change is always seen as potentially painful and dangerous. When the company is in a truly painful spot, you may be able to get the CEO to take a different approach…but even then, flexibility in your communication style is much more likely to be effective. Remember: the CEO’s job isn’t just to make decisions—it’s to make the right decisions. So any information you bring to your CEO must be communicated in a useful format, so that he or she can chart the right course for the company.