We always like bosses who say it how it is. Or do we? I count myself as a heart-on-sleeve CEO. One who is happy to have an open conversation. To this end, I have been sharing my fairly unedited thoughts on the future environment with my staff through our newsletter.
In the last one I basically told people that I thought the game was up in terms of doing things the way we have this last ten years. The money I believe won't be there in anything like the same amount from 2011. I asked people for a conversation. About changes in working practices. About using volunteers. About working only with those in the most dire need. Stuff that needs to be considered, at least.
It's interesting what power does. Being CEO, my words were taken not as an invitation to a conversation but a pronouncement. A decree that we would do all these things. Quite a few people were genuinely worried that now going to happen an my announcement was simply my way of telling them.
I haven't yet responded to the staff who wrote to me, which include some of our key people. I think I will firstly apologise for scaring them. I know that often CEOs only say ANYTHING when the hammer is just about to fall. And even then dress nasty stuff in nice-sounding language.
But, in my response, I will also highlight that I was actually seeking dialogue. The truth is that we do have time. About 18 months to rethink things. Enough time. And that we need them to help us to do this.
The learning for me is that it maybe isn't always possible as a CEO to say it just how it is. People bring their own fears to the table, understandably so given the previous experiences of many people. A CEO friend of mine winced when I shared the story. She did the same thing once and people thought she was announcing the end of the organisation!
Two conclusions. One is that the CEO role brings a responsibility to take extreme care with one's communication. You are seen as all-powerful and anything you say on paper has an atmosphere of diktat about it.
The second is that people don't always prefer bosses to tell it how it is, whatever they might say. Enjoying Alan Sugar is one thing. In one's own workplace I suspect it might be a different matter.