Open Access

Open Access

By Peter Shankman with Karen Kelly

Open Access

Peter Shankman is founder of Help a Reporter Out, a free-source repository for journalists, and vice president and small business evangelist for Vocus Inc., a marketing-services company. Karen Kelly is a freelance writer. From Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management Is Over—and Collaboration Is In (Palgrave Macmillan). ©2013

Inaccessible, aloof CEOs can run successful businesses for a while, but in the long run, they make bad leaders. They are rarely effective as visionaries, managers, administrators, or communicators. Would it kill a CEO to have a conversation with an employee in the time it takes to travel forty-two floors? It wouldn't. These kinds of leaders turn off employees by making them feel less than human and unimportant, and they are sending a message: You don't count. This is dangerous on many levels.

Even worse, arrogance and distance are often accompanied by narrow-mindedness and an unwillingness to listen to other people. Insulating yourself from the people who make the business run is, without question, one of the best ways to start making bad decisions. This is true even if the boss has other managers and executives in place who are accessible to those outside the executive bubble.

I've discovered two things about inaccessible leaders: 1) They send a bad message to employees, and morale declines; and 2) the CEO's decision-making suffers by not having a pulse on the business. He or she should not depend on seconds and thirds in command to let him or her know what's going on. CEOs have to find out for themselves—get out there and smell the air. CEOs and leaders who are accessible have happier workforces and make better decisions about their companies.

Of course, there is a matter of degree and accessibility, not to mention the importance of at least appearing to be available. You may know people who you think are aloof but who do well. In fact, I have a colleague, a publisher, who tells me he wants to be like his counterpart at another company: ”I wish I could be like X—he never returns phone calls.”

First of all, I can't imagine wanting to be like someone who doesn't return phone calls, but second, he doesn't really grasp the dynamics of this guy. I happen to know that the man doesn't return his calls, or the calls of a bunch of other people who the publisher has determined are not essential to his business. But this is also a leader who engages his employees, especially his top editors and writers. He's accessible to the people he has identified as essential and important. There's the difference.

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The Conference Board Review is the quarterly magazine of The Conference Board, the world's preeminent business membership and research organization. Founded in 1976, TCB Review is a magazine of ideas and opinion that raises tough questions about leading-edge issues at the intersection of business and society.