This from a recent Wall Street Journal article by Carol Hymowitz:

Far more than their predecessors, top executives face many demands from many different people. “Where CEOs a decade ago may have had five choices, they have 100 — and because they’re under more scrutiny, they’re more pressured to be visible and make themselves available,” says Richard Wellins, senior vice president of global marketing at DDI, a Pittsburgh-based consultant.

To start with, executives are at the helm of much larger companies than existed even a short time ago. They spend considerable time globetrotting to visit employees and customers dispersed around the world. They are expected to stay in close touch with a growing list of constituents — from directors and big investors to government regulatory officials and potential business partners. They’re also in demand to serve as directors of other companies and other organizations, to appear on television, to give speeches at universities, to headline conferences, and to participate in nonprofit and civic groups.

While the scope of CEOs’ activities may be greater than ever, I’m not convinced that their schedules need to as packed as they are according to this article.  The internet can free up people as much as tie them down, and the extent to which one has more time to do the important work that needs to be done is up to the individual.  Nobody is forcing CEOs to become rock stars or televangelists.  The ability to say “no” becomes more essential as one moves up the food chain, and I’m finally learning how to say it in my 40s.

Here’s what I said on the forum about this article:

There is no substitute for face-to-face communication, which I learned once again when teaching executives from Coca-Cola Icecek, the Turkish bottling group with operations now throughout Turkey, the Middle East and many of the former Soviet Republics.

Nonetheless, the more trust a CEO has engendered with the firm’s key stakeholders, be they employees, customers, suppliers, or the communities in which they operate, the less there is a need for constant physical presence. In our newly-published book, we document how leaders have been abe to go from meeting with all of their key stakeholders face-to-face to developing technological substitutes (e.g., Bob Lintz at GM using videos in the 1980s and videoconferencing now), and using surrogates as the charismatic founder institutionalizes her values and principles throughout the company (e.g., Mary Ellen Sheets of Two Men and a Truck, International).

Trust is initially built from direct interactions between people, but over time, the leader can enhance the trust developed through informal close connections using formal, less direct mechanisms. The leader’s reliability, openness, competence and compassion (ROCC of Trust) becomes the firm’s, and is more durable, compelling, and less dependent on any one encounter.

One executive quote in the article by Ms. Hymowitz supports this point very well:

The single most crucial element for surviving such a schedule, she believes, is to have a competent team to which you can delegate important jobs. “At my level, you can’t get caught in the weeds,” she says, “you have to move back to a more strategic position.”


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  • By Carmelo Lisciotto, September 23rd, 2008 at 5:36 am

    Very few CEO’s in my opinion are actually connected to the practical state of affairs of the organizations they run. Some are and I happen to work for one, but most simply ride the wave of whatever momentum (or lack of) that their company is travelling on.

    Carmelo Lisciotto

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