Why do senior leaders seem to spend time only with each other?

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Far-reaching study that began in 2006 about how CEOs spend their time is detailed here, and lest you think they’re true workaholic world-builders, the average was 62.9 hours/week (that is a lot, and more than the hard ceiling of 55 hours/productivity), and the average per day was about 9.7 for a weekday — and then they do about 2.4 hours of work on weekends. I don’t really see the 2.4 as being that big; I sometimes do 2.4 hours/work on a weekend, and I ain’t running no global company. That just means waking up at 7 and being done around 9:30. Big whoop.

There’s a few parts down near the bottom of the article that should be troubling, including:

  • 46% of a CEO’s time with internal constituencies was spent with one or more direct reports, and 21% of it was spent only with direct reports.
  • The total time spent with direct reports ranged from a low of 32% of time with internal constituencies to a high of 67%.
  • They spent less time with lower-level managers (14%, on average) and even less time with rank-and-file employees (about 6%, on average).

The study then even goes and says:

CEOs face a real risk of operating in a bubble and never seeing the actual world their workers face. Relationships with employees at multiple levels also build a CEO’s legitimacy and trustworthiness in the eyes of employees, which is essential to motivating them and winning their support.

Yep, and remember — as all this is happening in organizations, CEO trust has been declining for decades.

The “S-Team”

At the last full-time gig I had, the CEO had seven lieutenants, all SVPs, thusly known as “The S-Team.” Every time the CEO flew somewhere for a speech/gig, almost the entire S-Team went. It got to the point where you didn’t truly understand if they could be apart, or if someone needed their ass wiped while on the road. It was comical to observe.

Now look, Senior leaders do need to huddle on different strategic topics. But look at some of these numbers above. 67% means that 2 out of every 3 minutes in a work week, senior leaders are huddled together. That means you’re missing the views, opinions, challenges, ideas, and pain points of…

everyone else in the organization.

See how that’s flawed? You could drive a Mack Truck through that reasoning hole.

How do you even know what strategic decisions to make if the only interaction and information you really have is from guys who make close to the same money as you and were promoted because they’re like-minded to you anyway?

Seems very flawed.

Spend time with other people

I realize it’s orgasm-level fun to sit with like-minded individuals who “truly get the business model” and breathlessly discuss the financials, margins, and returns. I get that. It’s awesome. And who would want to go tell a peon down the chain why their work is flawed, or how the long-term revenue play is to automate them out to a bot? Who wants to have those awkward conversations? Let’s stay in the conference room and do an exec readout on our 11% growth. (We wanted 15%, but we’ll take this, naitch.)

But most of true growth comes from understanding different ideas and perspectives, and while I don’t mean financial growth per se, it often correlates back to financial growth. I’m not even going to touch employee engagement here, because these same execs view that as fluffy bullshit. “I didn’t have to be engaged! I just grinned for it! These fucking millennials!”

I’ll say this, though: at the S-Team job I described above, I worked in an office with maybe 100 other people. We were on Floors 4/5. So many times, the CEO would get in the elevator with peons and avoid eye contact. Just preposterous. It’s not even that big a place, or an elevator. How do you “foster engagement” in that way, especially when I can see the same guy giggle like a school girl when one of his SVPs approaches him?

Not everything is about that level. Sometimes you need to speak to other people.

The customer paradox

You make the most money in enterprise work by being furthest from the end customer. So you cluster up all week with a bunch of other 50-something white guys with nice houses and you’re supposedly strategizing about a customer off what? Consultants? Data sets? Because these numbers above clearly say you’re not down there talking to the level that actually deals with the customer.

If you ever want a total snapshot of how fucked up work is for many people, consider this: oftentimes, a “brand manager” — who does nothing all month but sit in meetings, write pointless emails, and adjust logos — is considered a 150K job by executives, because “the brand” is some thing on a pedestal somewhere. Meanwhile, a community manager — who often interacts directly with customers and advocates hourly — is considered a 50K job by those same execs, because it’s some “fluffy social media shit that millennials do” and it’s “not moving the needle.”

That schism is all detailed here, BTW.

Bottom line: don’t spend all your time with people like yourself. Get out and understand the good and bad of your company and your people — and learn something about customers in the process.

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