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Becoming a more self-aware CEO

CEOs are usually smart people who are very good when it comes to business skills. But many lack self-awareness, stemming from a misunderstanding of intent and impact.

Most smart people have very good intentions, but others don't always perceive things the same way. From my experience, successful CEOs share some or all of the following traits that contribute to lack of self-awareness:

1. They focus too much on results, which is perceived as not caring about people.

2. They change their minds frequently in order to deal with the dynamic environment, which is perceived as indecisiveness.

3. They are always pushing for excellence, which is perceived as perfectionism.

4. They cautiously consider all risks, which is perceived as procrastination.

5. They stop others from speaking because of time constraints, which is perceived as poor listening.

Let's look at each of the above behaviours, how they're perceived, and how the CEO and subordinates can help improve awareness:

1. Too much focus on results: As a CEO, you need to ensure that people believe you care for them first.

How do you show you care? Walk around the office whenever you have time, slowly, looking at people and smiling. Ask them how they are and listen to their stories. If you do it right, people will tell you more about themselves. Once you know these stories, you can develop tailor-made messages that speak to the hearts of your people. They will realise that their stories are incorporated in your message and that you care for them.

For subordinates: If your CEO is highly results-oriented, don't expect him or her to change into a caring leader. It's easier to change your attitude toward the boss. If he or she is very results-oriented, it means the chance of succeeding in business is very high. For some organisations facing a crisis, such a leader may be needed simply to give the business a chance to prevail. Caring about success is better than the alternative.

2. Changing one's mind frequently: If you're the CEO, find someone you trust who is also very focused. Ask that person to "break" you whenever you have a tendency to change your mind too often. Tell people around you to be specific about deadlines, and to remind you in advance when a deadline is approaching. This will prevent you from changing your mind too frequently. Keep track of yourself. If it turns out you are 80% right when changing and 20% wrong, try to find the patterns behind the 20% and learn to minimise them.

For subordinates: Learn how to inform your boss and give feedback with diplomacy. Each person has a preferred feedback style. Try to understand his or her communication style and communicate accordingly.

3. Always pushing for excellence: If you are a CEO, people expect you to push them for excellence. But there may be a time that people perceive that it's too much. Learn to observe the signals. It could be a change of facial expression or tone of voice. It could be a strange reaction. Ask if it is worth pushing so hard.

For subordinates: You might not want to change for good business reasons. Or you might not want to change because of your comfort zone. Ask yourself: Why am I resisting being pushed?

4. Cautiously considering all risks: Tell your people you need time to think. Then ask how urgently do they need your decision on this? What will be the potential negative consequences if you take too much time?

For subordinates: Prepare in advance if your boss takes longer to decide.

5. Stopping others from speaking because of time constraints: Remind yourself this is bad manners. Many people consider such behaviour rude, disrespectful, careless or selfish. If you know that you have trouble controlling this impulse, begin the conversation by telling your subordinates: "I might intervene and get to the point."

For subordinates: Be prepared. Be concise when dealing with the CEO. And don't take it personally if you're cut short.

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under the brand TheCoach. He can be reached at Daily inspirational quotations can be found on his Facebook fan page: Previous articles are archived at