If a CEO or other senior leader creates a culture where people can't ask questions, raise issues, or engage in real communication, run away as fast as you can.
Over the years, I've run into so many examples of CEOs and other senior leaders who wouldn't tolerate opposition. For example, a few years ago I conducted focus groups and interviews at a company where the Corporate Communications VP was valiantly trying to improve internal communication.
But what I learned was that communication problems started at the top. One VP told me that "nobody" felt comfortable raising issues with the CEO. "For example, I've heard from my boss that none of the leaders ask questions at executive leadership meetings because they don't want to appear ignorant or challenge the CEO's authority."
Ouch. I'm sure you have your own experiences with less high-profile leaders who are really bad listeners:
- The division president who tried to shoot the messenger (me) when employees in a focus group made suggestions on how he could improve communication.
- The senior leadership team that has a reputation for roasting employees when they come to present their ideas.
- The CEO who responds to an employee question at a town hall meeting by saying, "I've already answered that," in a bored, dismissive tone.
CEOs get their jobs because they're smart, driven and decisive. But they keep their jobs by being smart enough to realize that they don't know everything. Problems are festering every day--and great ideas are fermenting. This may sound blindingly obvious, but unless a CEO is open to hear both bad news and good news, he can't help solve problems or take advantage of promising opportunities.
If your CEO has a habit of cutting people off, shutting people down and otherwise acting like the only voice worth hearing is his own, find another job. Sell your stock. Get out quick.