The Disconnected Leader

The Disconnected Leader

Even though few would dispute the value of being an engaged leader, many still do not practice what they preach. The harsh reality is great numbers of leaders continue to operate in a vacuum by sequestering themselves away in the corner office and attempting to lead from afar.  Trust me when I tell you that being out of touch is never a good position to find yourself in as the CEO. I rarely come across leaders who couldn’t benefit from being more meaningfully engaged on both a broader and deeper basis, and hope that today’s post will encourage you to do just that…ENGAGE.

I have consistently espoused the value of walking the floor (hat tip to Tom PetersMBWA), dropping in for meetings on an impromptu basis, proactively engaging key stakeholders, and any number of other items that focus on raising your awareness. Don’t think span of control – think span of awareness.

My advice to CEOs, regardless of whether you’re running a start-up or a Fortune 500 company, is to go see things for yourself. I think you’ll find your view of the world will change dramatically when you validate impressions based upon your own observations, as opposed to sole reliance on what you read in a management report, or what you hear third or fourth hand in a meeting. Think about it… when you’re sitting in front of the board, on an analyst call, providing testimony, talking to the media, or speaking at the annual shareholder meeting, wouldn’t it be great to actually know what your talking about as opposed to interpreting what someone else has told you?

So the real question is this – how does a CEO get to the point of being so disconnected from operations that he or she just doesn’t have a clue? The reality is that there are any number of reasons why this can happen, a few of which I’ve noted below:

  • The Optimistic CEO: I have met a number of CEOs that simply choose to view the world through rose colored glasses. They will believe what they want to believe regardless of what they hear or what they observe. Even in the worst of times they believe nothing to be insurmountable. While optimism is generally a great quality for a CEO to possess, there is a point at which unbridled optimism can disconnect a person from reality.
  • The Arrogant CEO: These CEOs believe they can will their view into reality in spite of circumstances, situations, or events. The arrogant CEO doesn’t value the input of line and staff management. These CEOs see management opinions as inconsequential, unless of course, they happen to be in alignment with their own beliefs and opinions.
  • The Unaware CEO: These CEO’s will take any report or piece of information at face value. These CEOs are overly trusting, and often politically naive. They fail to seek clarification, validation, or proof supporting the information they have been fed. This is a very unhealthy state of mind for a CEO hoping to survive over the long haul.
  • The Fearful CEO: These chief executives hide in fear of making a mistake, revealing shortcomings or inadequacies, or in an attempt at managing perceptions. CEOs guided by fear often suffer from indecision and analysis paralysis. The worst thing about a fearful CEO, is that executives who refuse to make decisions and take risks will transfer that thinking to others within the organization. Leadership is a contagion – good or bad. Oddly enough, the biggest sign of a fearful leader is when a leader fails to engage. Leaders who avoid personal interaction, or shy away from social media for all the wrong reasons are likely fearful leaders.
  • The Disconnected CEO: Unlike CEOs who understand how to leverage time and resources via delegation while remaining connected to management and staff, the disconnected CEO does just the opposite. They have reclusive tendencies which cause them to often completely abdicate responsibility and remain disconnected from management. Sticking one’s head in the sand will not make the circumstances of a particular situation go away, rather that type of thinking will likely on exacerbate the issue.

If you’re a CEO with clouded vision and desire to change the view from the top, it is critical that you maintain open lines of communication through a variety of channels and feedback loops. All good leaders maintain a connection and rapport with both line and staff. Furthermore, savvy CEOs are always working to refine their intuitive senses. A good CEO demands accountability and transparency. They challenge everything of consequence. They understand that acceptance of general statements and ambiguity, or blindness to hidden agendas will only contribute to limiting their vision.

If you’re a CEO and you haven’t personally spoken with your top customers, suppliers, vendors and partners, you’re doing yourself and your company a great injustice. If your CFO handles all communications with your banking relationships, and your Chief Investment Officer handles all of your investor relations, you’re flat out missing the boat. If your CMO is making all of your brand decisions there will be h*ll to pay down the road. Moreover, in today’s litigious and compliance oriented world where the CEO is no longer out of reach, it’s just plain smart to take a more hands on approach. Remember that there is a major difference between delegating and abdicating responsibility. I think President Reagan said it best: “trust but verify.”

Let me be very clear; I’m not suggesting that you become a micro manager or that you stop delegating, I’m simply suggesting you do the job the way it is supposed to be done. Great leaders champion from the front – they are not disengaged invisible executives. As the CEO you are the visionary, influencer, champion, defender, evangelist, and you must have a bias to action. You can be none of these things as a recluse.

Engaged leaders are very visible and very active leaders – they question, listen, assess and react. I can promise you one thing – leaders who don’t have a clear read on the pulse of the organization, won’t have a healty pulse for very long.


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    August 23, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    Thanks for the comment Marlyn. My suspicion is that your choices have made you an effective leader and one well regarded by your team. Best wishes for continued success Marlyn.



    September 5, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Here's another example of disconnected leadership and the consequences for, in this case, students, faculty and taxpayers. A legacy of waste in UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Office: easily grasped by the public, lost on University of California’s President Yudof.
    The UC Berkley budget gap has grown to $150 million, & still the Chancellor is spending money that isn't there on $3,000,000 consultants. His reasons range from the need for impartiality to requiring the consultants "thinking, expertise, & new knowledge".
    Does this mean that the faculty & management of UC Berkeley – flagship campus of the greatest public system of higher education in the world – lack the knowledge, integrity, impartiality, innovation, skills to come up with solutions? Have they been fudging their research for years? continued



      September 5, 2010 at 4:36 pm

      continue…The consultants will glean their recommendations from faculty interviews & the senior management that hired them; yet $ 150 million of inefficiencies and solutions could be found internally if the Chancellor & Provost Breslauer were doing the work of their jobs (This simple point is lost on UC’s leadership).
      The victims of this folly are Faculty and Students. $ 3 million consultant fees would be far better spent on students & faculty.
      There can be only one conclusion as to why inefficiencies & solutions have not been forthcoming from faculty & staff: Chancellor Birgeneau has lost credibility & the trust of the faculty & Academic Senate leadership (C. Kutz, F. Doyle). Even if the faculty agrees with the consultants' recommendations – disagreeing might put their jobs in jeopardy – the underlying problem of lost credibility & trust will remain. (Context: greatest recession in modern times)
      Contact your representatives in Sacramento: tell them of the hefty self-serving $’s being spent by UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau & Provost Breslauer.
      Let there be light!


    Steve Farber

    October 16, 2010 at 9:28 am

    I'd add one more, Mike: The Frightened CEO. Many of them are just plain scared to meet their own folks face to face and without a filter. For some, it's a lack of self-confidence in the communication arena; for others, they're afraid to be caught unawares on topics they should know about. And many other variations on the theme.

    Excellent post!



      October 16, 2010 at 10:10 am

      Hi Steve:

      Great catch – I have witnessed the same thing and should not have omitted this from my list. Thanks for stopping by Steve and have a great weekend.



    December 21, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Hi Mike
    Thanks for such a nice post its mind challenging and leadership thought provoking and i take it as a good Christmas gift to all Leaders and CEOs.

    […] – it’s about those whom you lead and serve. There are few things as limiting and frustrating as disconnected leaders. Smart leaders spend their time starting or advancing conversations, not avoiding or ending them. […]

    […] – it’s about those whom you lead and serve. There are few things as limiting and frustrating as disconnected leaders. Smart leaders spend their time starting or advancing conversations, not avoiding or ending them. […]

    […] – it’s about those whom you lead and serve. There are few things as limiting and frustrating as disconnected leaders. Smart leaders spend their time starting or advancing conversations, not avoiding or ending them. […]


    Joe Lalonde

    December 7, 2012 at 5:28 am

    Interesting Mike. I’ve always held a strong opinion that leaders should be connected and interacting with their team on a regular basis. I hadn’t given much thought to leaders connecting with customers, suppliers, etc. But you’re right. Leaders should be out there connecting with these people as well.


      Mike Myatt

      December 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm

      Hi Joe:

      Team is absolutely critical, but not paying attention to other key constituencies will simply created unnecessary blind spots for leaders. Thanks for stopping by Joe.


    Sami Atig

    December 8, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    Dear Mike,

    Socially unproductive and indeed, a parasite on society were they not accepted and succored.
    How can we help them ?
    Thank you for your help.



    John Pitzel

    December 20, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    I’m of the opinion that a good leader puts in time “at the front” – understanding what his employees and clients go through – and helps cut through the insulation and stay grounded with the fundamentals of the business, what you are offering and what the client is receiving.

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