For CEOs, CFOs, CHROs, and other Cs, and Divisional Ds’, survey after survey try to identify their focus, their concerns, their attention, their worries, the 10 things they see as critical success factors. There is a whole industry of C-suite level surveys that run interviews and then package the answers under glorious headings such as ‘Global Trends’. In those surveys (also called ‘research’) leadership goes up and down, so does talent management, vision, culture and the rest of the management supermarket. These surveys are an interesting read.
Here is my Alternative Survey (sorry, Research). The major issue is fear, which is no more and no less that a legitimate human emotion, but one of imperialistic power. These are the top 20 fears that I see from my work with clients as an organizational consultant. Not exclusively of C and D suites by the way, also people below, but with focus on top leadership teams.
- The unknown. Strategic Linear Planning does not do the trick anymore.
- Fear of pronouncing the word ‘unknown’ as if it was a sin to accept that the unknown does exist, and it’s not their fault.
- The un-tried. We want innovation, but you go first. (Can we have examples of where this has been done? Although when you will give us the examples we will tell you that they come from the wrong industry and the wrong size of company)
- The unconventional. We’d better bring McKinsey, the Board will like that. Predictable, safe and expensive.
- Fear of challenging, but not fear of saying that we should not have fear of challenging.
- Fear of failure, although we say that mistakes are OK
- Fear of not knowing what could go wrong, because if we knew we may not have the skills, or guts, to address it.
- Fear of disappointing others. The definition of others depends on your GPS position in the organization chart.
- Fear of loosing control. That’s it.
- Fear of not being recognised
- Fear of being disrupted (also referred as Uber-ized)
- Fear of being redundant, which is not exactly the same as becoming redundant.
- Fear of becoming irrelevant: C-people, D-people, the products, the company, the vision.
- Fear of losing the plot, expressed in more circumvented ways.
- Fear of being second
- Fear of being late (in the thinking, in the action)
- Fear of being embarrassed by decisions not leading to total, unequivocal success.
- Fear of spending too much money, although they know that the concept of ‘much’ is both relative and strategic.
- Fear of being seeing too brave, in a culture where seeing as brave is good. (I supposed, this is fear of the borders)
- Fear of being seeing as having fear.
What differentiates leaders is the order, or the combinations, or the relative weight of these 20 fears.
When addressing challenges, and when helping these executives, in whatever capacity you may act (boss, colleague, consultant, coach, service provider, friend), the trick, and the wise move, is to get into fear-hunting mode. The key question is: what fear(s) are behind the said and the unsaid?
This is always, always, the most productive way to understand what is going on.