What Matters for the CEO

Looking up the hierarchy employees can believe that being CEO must be a game changing experience. However, the reality is that the imagined power comes with its own constraints. Here are a few words for the new CEO (or any new manager) on what matters. This is where the reality and the illusion diverge:

What You Hear Matters More Than What You Know: You have plans and agendas. You know the place & the ropes. You have great skills, knowledge and wisdom. Show it by going and listening to the people who matter most – those doing the work, your customers and your community. Ask their views and change your own. Let what you hear guide what you do.

What You Do Matters More Than What You Say: You are surrounded now by people who want to listen to you. You are supported by teams of professional communicators. You can order an expensive new brand campaign if you want. You have a soapbox but the smartest way to roll is to get down off the soapbox and go to work. Let others work out who you are by what you do.

Your Reputation Matters More Than Your Record: You must have a great record or you wouldn’t have the job. Nobody cares about what you did now. They only care about how you did it. The how determines your reputation internally and externally. Everything you do is added or subtracted from your reputation. Everybody wants to discuss your reputation because they want to predict what you will do next. Your reputation has more influence on what you will get done than you think.

Your Influence Matters More Than Your Power: Congratulations on being top of the hierarchy (excepting of course for your accountability to the board, the chair, shareholders, analysts, community activists, politicians, your family, and anyone who ever had a view about your company, etc). You have the power now, but mostly you can’t use it. You can’t sack everyone. You can’t survive a revolt. You can’t do the work yourself. You can’t answer every question. Accept that with all your power the best way to get anything done is still with influence, the same way you climbed the ladder.

Your Network Matters More Than Your Hierarchy: The hierarchy mutes your influence. A hierarchy is only one part of your network. Some of your direct reports are openly campaigning for your job. You’ve been there and you know they won’t wait long. The further down the hierarchy you go the less your voice is heard and understood. Importantly, you are now the face of the organisation to customers and the community. Looking down the hierarchy won’t help you deal with those critical stakeholders. Start leveraging the networks through and around the organisation. Those networks helped you on the way up and they will help you now. That’s where you should use your influence. The network magnifies your influence. That’s where you do your best work.

Your People Matter More Than Your Process: Nothing in the organisation gets done without people. The best processes, technology and organisations will fall apart without the right people. Start focusing on building their capabilities and changing the processes to adapt where required. Your customers and community will appreciate the immediate increase in your organisation’s responsiveness.

Your Exceptions Matter More Than Your Rules: If everything was predictable, great people wouldn’t be required. Focus on how you identify, manage and adapt for exceptions, anomalies and surprises. Don’t let your team explain them away. Many exceptions hide insights, risks, threats or breakdowns that your current processes can’t handle. Exceptions are where the disruptive innovations lurk and where reputations are won or lost. See exceptions as a chance for you to lead make changes, especially to help your people and your customers.

Your Effectiveness Matters More Than Your Efficiency: Your new staff are going to make your life extremely efficient. They will quickly create a schedule, cut access and manage a protective bubble of carefully selected information. That’s the best way for them to make their life easy and predictable again. However, obstacles are the work, exceptions hide insights and you will need to experiment on your personal effectiveness. Without slack, freedom to connect and thinking time you won’t be able to do this. Incidentally the need to focus on effectiveness of purpose goes for the whole organisation too (see ResponsiveOrg).

Your Purpose Matters More Than Your Pay: You’ve spent a lot of the crazy pay already and here I am saying it doesn’t matter. What matters is the impact you have on the world. The internal motivator called purpose pushed you so hard to get here. You wanted to make a mark, not cash. Delivering on purpose is what makes the role worth doing and will be how your tenure is judged. Years from now you will barely remember the money but you will see the faces of those in the network around the organisations whose lives you changed. Which way do you want to influence their lives? Let’s hope they are smiling later. 

The Job Matters More Than You: Unless you are a founder or a complete failure, the role you play existed before you came along and will exist afterwards. That role means a lot to the hopes and dreams of all the employees, customers and community. Those dreams deserve your respect. The role is not yours. You are no better because you have it. You are just the current steward. Leave it better for the next person and make sure that you have the influence to choose them wisely. That may be the best legacy you can leave.

On influence

There are only two powers in the world, saber and mind; at the end, saber is always defeated by mind – Napoleon Bonaparte

Power is the ability to make someone do what you want. Power is fleeting.

Influence is the ability to shape someone’s beliefs and actions. Influence endures.

Power is yours. Influence is the others.

Power begins with talking. Influence begins with listening.

Power is open to the few prepared to use or threaten force. Influence is open to everyone who is prepared to discuss.

Power provokes countervailing power. Influence fosters the influence of all.

Power comes with uniforms. Influence is as diverse as the voices of humanity.

The use of power frustrates the ability to influence. Those forced against their will are rarely open to persuasion. The use of influence retains the option of force.

Influence prevails eventually. That moment begins when diverse, purposeful and connected people discuss what they want openly.

Choose influence.

Soft power

In a world that is often obsessed with force, much more is accomplished every day through influence.

Every year Monocle magazine publishes a soft power index chronicling the rising influence of various nations. Much of that soft power is attributable to the influence generated through tourism, aid, music, arts and other creative endeavours. These activities build connection, reciprocity and trust and importantly improve influence by making a nation a leading example or aspiration that others wish to follow.

In organisations, soft power plays a critical but often unexamined role. Role models have great influence. Invisible networks of advice, support, trust and generosity weave through organisations. With increasing options off exit, voice or passive resistance, people choose to follow much more than they are forced. I have never seen a leader survive a mutiny so force has its limits.

A famous HBR article once asked:

‘Why should anyone be led by you?’

The article’s recommendations highlight the human side of leadership. They focus on examples of soft power like empathy, understanding, vulnerability, interpreting soft data and leveraging personal strengths and inspiration.

Everyone in an organisation has the ability to build and leverage their soft power. It comes from building strong personal networks. In an era where networks are increasingly important understanding and using levers of soft power is increasingly important.

Soft power is ultimately the way leaders address the soft issues of management. The soft issues of management are the hard ones to solve. Edicts are easy. Engagement is hard.

Take a purposeful stand that reflects who you are. Engage with others with generosity, creativity, empathy and trust. LIke Monocle’s creative nations, you will find collaboration becomes easier, others follow your lead and your influence on the rise.

Your soft power is you.

Circles of Control and Influence Revisited

The only knowledge we can manage is our own – Harold Jarche

If you are a middle manager in a large corporate, the concept of circles of control and circles of influence is sold as the concept that keeps you sane.  There are only some things you can change yourself.  There are some things you can play a role in shaping.  Everything else is beyond you.  

If you follow this model, you will keep calm and stay in your box.


However, even this narrowing of accountability doesn’t seem to work in practice.  

Why does this view of circles of control and influence break down? Discussion of these circles is usually framed in terms of the organisational hierarchy.  

Control is defined your role, your resources and your people.  Influence is those parts of the organisation you relate to directly up the hierarchy or as partners in the work.  Every other person or silo is a mystery and will remain so. Relationships outside the organisation are excluded.

Rethink your Circles for a Networked World

However, a networked world enables us to see control and influence differently:

  • Control: yourself and the physical resources you can allocate without the participation of others. YOU
  • Influence: everyone else with whom you are connected by some form of interaction. YOUR NETWORK


Our networked circle of control is much smaller than hierarchy suggests.

Other people are not under our control as much as we might like to pretend or the systems of our organisations might suggest. When networks enable us to listen, to engage and to learn together, this becomes very clear. Employees, suppliers and other partners don’t act the way we want from orders. They are motivated by an alignment of interests.  We need to influence their actions to get results and to win engagement.

If our resources or decisions require interactions with others then those interactions come with influence.

We control our personal states, our learning and the things we personally can move around, little else.

Our networked circle of influence is much larger than hierarchy suggests.  

This circle runs wherever our communication reaches. The more you network and the more you act the more influential you are.

In an organisation with an enterprise social network, your influence is potentially everyone. Influence doesn’t stop at the boundaries of the organisation.  There will be times to achieve a goal you might need to work outside the organisation to influence back in.  This much wider influence removes our ability to absolve ourselves from bad things in our organisations, our customers or our community.  We have the ability to influence their change.  For example:

  • if there is a bad customer experience in your organisation, find someone to help you change it. You can do it even it is outside your job, because it is an important role.
  • if your business is having an adverse or could have a more positive social impact, go find others to discuss and act on improving it.

Circles of influence are just as powerful as circles of control. They require different actions but the impacts can be as great.  

Keep Calm. Use influence to have impact. Just don’t define yourself and your circles in terms of a hierarchy

Susan Scrupski, Harold Jarche and I will be discussing the role of networks in organisations in the first Change Agents Worldwide webinar, in partnership with Socialcast VMware