You can watch a CEO
You can be next to a CEO
You can report to a CEO
You can study CEOs
But, until you sit in that chair, you don't know how it is to be a CEO
William Mitchell, ex Chairman and CEO of Arrow Electronics
Counting on a third, impartial party playing the "guardian angel" or the "devil's advocate" role allows the CEO to improve his/ her comfort with the course of action he/ she has decided on with his/ her team. Of course, this doesn't imply assuming that the CEO and his/ her crew are incapable of solving their management problems by themselves. Rather than that, it means that the objective is to enrich the decision process by adding-up a fresh view, uncontaminated by personal interests. It's not just the usual, "can't see the forest for the trees" situation, something which by the way happens all-too frequently when a team has been pondering the same subject for a long period of time. It's about being able to see other forests! Of course, third party's hands-on, real experience credentials are much more than a nice to have situation. It's a sine-qua-non, must-have condition for a significantly productive alliance. In addition, it's recommendable that he has the skills to listen to what is said and what is not, and that he can convey his ideas without creating tension or irritation, bearing in mind that -by definition- he will be called upon to intervene in delicate situations. In essence, a Strategic Ally is needed, and it has to be a Capable Referent.
In a crisis, everything looks urgent and critical. Everything seems as needing to be decided without enough information and on the rush. The ironic and at the same time grave thing is that it not only seems that way. It actually is! Crisis dramatically alter the rules of the game and turn everything into unknown, unchartered territory. Little or nothing of the existing processes can be used to decide in the new scenario the company is facing. Trying to predict what can happen based on existing knowledge can be useful, but it can also mean missing the elephant in the room. In the middle of a crisis and whenever possible, it is key to make decisions with what you have at that precise moment. On the other hand, in addition to working in those possible scenarios, the CEO has to face unpredictable situations that pop-up every minute; situations that, needless to say, are beyond his control. This is a monumental challenge. And as such it demands a special kind of "know how"; one that is not obtained in business schools. In essence, a Strategic Ally is needed, and it has to be an Experienced Associate.
Leaders experience different emotions in front of situations they have to deal with. In some cases they can feel euphoric; in others, extremely anxious. They can confront fears and also harbor contradictory emotional impulses. Of course, emotionality is far from being exclusively linked to CEOs or upper management crust. Anyone can be emotional. That being said, though the feeling might be the same, there is a fundamental difference on the organizational impact. Seeing the CEO overwhelmed is radically different than seeing a similar feeling in the Stamping Supervisor, in one of the cashiers, or the Marketing Manager. It is precisely this difficulty in deciding which feeling to share, with whom, when and how to do it, that characterizes the situation known as the "Loneliness at the Top". The CEO needs a third party, an outsider to the organization, with whom he can freely share his feelings about a delicate situation, in the certainty that channeling them professionally into the decision process will contribute to a more effective resolution. In essence, a Strategic Ally is needed, and it has to be a Qualified Partner.