Open And Candid Dialogue With Fellow CEOs Can Be Your Most Important Lifeline
Six months ago, I began holding weekly conference calls with a group of former CEOs and top corporate executives. The calls have no agenda other than being a safe place to share personal stories and experiences, business wisdom, and camaraderie. For many of the participants, it has become a highlight of their week, and we all feel just a little wiser after each call.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit, our Chief Executive Calls became animated with personal stories about leading at a major U.S. airline after Sept. 11, keeping employees safe and a multinational food business going in China during SARS, and the trials and tribulations of being president of a U.S. meat conglomerate when mad cow disease ravaged the beef industry. On this week’s call, the group was unanimous about how much they could have benefited from a Chief Executive Call while leading through their respective crises.
All agree that the COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest threat to American business in generations and recognize the monumental challenges their fellow chief executives and business leaders are facing. One of the participants, former CEO & President of Chicken of the Sea International John Signorino, says, “Chief executives are keenly aware of the intense pressure their fellow CEOs are under to just stay in business and keep employees working, and to make sure everyone has a job after the crisis. They also understand that it’s not just business; it is personal. Real people and their families are counting on them.”
On an average day, a chief executive is in a lonely place. They are surrounded by subordinates and high-paid consultants, even a board member or two — but rarely peers. What chief executives need most in the heat of a crisis is agenda-free, personal, and candid one-on-one dialogue on topics that are important to them with peers who are wrestling with making the very same decisions.
The one message the group wants to share with sitting chief executives managing through the COVID-19 crisis is this: Make time for peer interaction. An open dialogue with fellow chief executives can be your most important lifeline.
Our nation’s business leaders will be pulled in many different directions by a variety of forces in the coming weeks and months. Chief executives should seek out peer interaction as much as is practical. It will not only help them stay on an even keel mentally and emotionally but will make them better decision-makers during this crisis, in its aftermath, and for the rest of their careers.
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