How a Weak CEO Won the Day

June 14, 2015 Chris Pearse

Vulnerability and Helplessness are attributes not normally associated with the role of a Chief Executive. Perhaps they should be…

My client, the CEO of a national charity, was becoming increasingly worn down by a situation that was fraying her nerves and making her feel weak and inadequate:

I was getting more and more frustrated and anxious with our new financial manager and the procedures that he had been imposing on our accounting practices. Although I had instigated the changes for the benefit of the charity, the new regime was making it impossible to do the things that had previously seemed simple. The relationship was becoming very tense.

The CEO was becoming a victim of her own decisions and it was having a profound impact on her self-image:

She was beginning to feel like a failure and simply did not know what to do…

Not able to mask my distress any further, I admitted to the manager that I was on the defensive and felt helpless and frustrated – the exact opposite of how I thought a CEO should feel under any circumstances.

In admitting her vulnerability, she was doing the reverse of what a Strong Leader is supposed to.

To my surprise, the manager confessed to being over-zealous and digging in his heels. The relief was tangible and energising. It led to immediate solutions to the problems.

For me, this illustrates 3 powerful truths:

  1. All leaders – and that is anyone with any degree of responsibility – will feel this fragility and impotence on occasion. The external demeanour is not always a guide to the inner experience.
  2. Admitting the reality, however negative it is, can release the positive energy needed to deal with it.
  3. Admitting weakness can be a strength.
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