- 20 de May, 2021
- Posted by: Filipa Ferreira
CEOs rarely get the full story from advisers and don’t seem to know when to step down, says David Fubini. His book Hidden Truths offers candid wisdom for leaders.
David Fubini has never been a CEO of a major corporation, but during his 34-year career as a senior director at consulting firm McKinsey, he had ample opportunity to work closely with and observe CEOs and leaders of all types in action—and to analyze why they succeeded or failed.
Fubini, a senior lecturer in the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School, poured that knowledge, along with a list of lessons learned from researching leaders past and present into the book Hidden Truths: What Leaders Need to Hear But Are Rarely Told, published in December. The book is a leadership guide to navigating a role that Fubini says is unlike any other, which leaves many new CEOs and leaders struggling to find their footing.
“People strive for a long time to develop functional skills and operational knowledge and a track record of success, to reach a point where they can be the leader of an organization,” Fubini explains. “What’s shocking for most is that the skills and track record that delivered them to this role aren’t helpful once they get there.”
Not only do CEOs struggle to learn how to run a company from a lonely role at the top, but they often quickly find that the network of coworkers they relied on for years are no longer faithful allies. “They don’t realize that leaders have a different relationship with their subordinates, just by virtue of the hierarchy of organizations,” says Fubini, who led McKinsey’s Boston office for 10 years and also co-founded a global unit within the firm that aided mergers of some of the world’s top companies.
Fubini explains five key pieces of advice for business leaders.
- Avoid half-truths and misperceptions
“When you are an advisor to an organization, as I was for three decades,” he says, “this is one that always seems to be relevant. In the book, I quote a former admiral who said he knew two things with certainty when he came onto a battleship: He was never going to get handed a cold cup of coffee, and he was never going to hear the whole truth. People coming into a new role will struggle because they get told only a portion of what they need to know. Once you recognize that it’s not human nature to tell you everything, you have to be open and candid and say, ‘Look, tell me what you are not telling me.’
Some CEOs also perform a double-check by not relying only on what they’re told by one group, but also going back and having confirmative conversations with others. Others will go a few layers below the senior management team and engage middle-management, who are often willing to be absolutely candid and have a deeper understanding of what is really going on.”
- Start change management by changing the management
“There is enormous value to changing out management because it unleashes frozen organizations and brings a change of perspective,” Fubini says. “And frankly, the broader body of the organization often welcomes the change. There are lots of examples where people come in and get told: We can’t do this. Let me tell you why this didn’t work. Because they are stuck in a status quo mindset.
“But you don’t have time for that—change is often a matter of speed. There’s also sometimes a belief that you don’t want to change out management because you will lose the institutional knowledge that exists there, and that will set you back. But the truth is, that institutional knowledge doesn’t rest with people who are directly reporting in the senior management team. It rests with the people below it.”
- Use psychic rewards, not just monetary ones
“Money is critically important only up to a point [to employees], but the real motivation comes from an emotional connection that you feel” Fubini contends.
“If I tell you that you are highly respected and that your partners appreciate what you’re doing, you’ll break down walls to be successful. That could be a formal recognition that can take the form of giving you an opportunity to work on a committee of note, or tapping you as a speaker representing the company. “Or it could be more informal, by giving you recognition in a speech in front of your peers, or in an all-staff email. Those are the little things that leaders should do, but don’t do enough.”
- Know when to leave
“People always feel like they have one more act,” Fubini says. “In reality, very, very few people are wildly successful for an extended length of time. So you want to find an inflection point, where you can leave while you are at the apex, not past it—and most people miss that. Your legacy is enhanced by leaving when people are wanting more.
- Strive for authenticity
“A lot of CEOs think they have to play a role, like an actor, and I really think that’s a failure signal,” Fubini says. “I’m a huge believer that you have to have some core beliefs that are true about yourself and hold onto them.
“It’s when you deviate from that and pretend to be something else that you fall apart.”
“CEOs can slip into an isolated default mode without realizing it. Because they’re so busy and often surrounded by people, it feels as if they’re engaged and involved. Similarly, CEOs receive a stream of communication from a variety of sources, so they may not realize that they’re filtering out information they don’t want to hear by intimidating or ignoring people. And they may not admit to themselves or others how lonely or mentally exhausting the job is and try to “tough it out,” refusing to seek help from people they trust.”
Adapted from “The Hard Truth About Being a CEO”, by Michael Blanding, 12 May 2021 in Harvard Business School Working Knowledge