Being Self-Refective: What the CEO of a $5B Firm Said to Me . . .

The CEO comes into the local office, only occasionally. He is here for a specific reason today. He is here to push his vision and change the way this company does business. And because of that, I get a chance to sit down with him.

About 30 minutes before our meeting I am ushered into a conference room by some assistant and the head of Human Resources for the division of this $5B firm. I am the first one here and like usual, I scope out the chairs and the arrangement of the room.  I am mentally reviewing the meeting ahead of time and calculating where to sit in order to be comfortable second, but first I want to create a "bond" where the CEO feels he can open up to me.

My calculations are shattered as the assistant asks if I want coffee or water. My answer is always the same--no thank you. I am never certain what kind of coffee I will get (it's usually never as good as Starbucks--yes I am spoiled), and the water, well, I've seen people turn on the faucet in the bathroom into a plastic cup that has been reused. So, I am not about to chance my getting some strange disease or illness.

I grab a seat. It's not at the head of the conference table, but it's to the right of it, the one where I can watch the door. I am careful not to lay out my notebooks yet, as I want to see where he sits and I can get a sense of where to move in order to get close enough to create that "bond" I need.

Around five minutes to our appointed meeting time the CEO walks in. He is alone, much to my amazement. Usually the CEOs I have met with have an EA or some PR person--"just in case." In case of what, I am pretty sure I know: to make sure I am not a kook, although my credentials are established. And to make sure what the CEO is not misquoted.

As he walks in, I stand up walk around and we shake hands. He looks around at the table and asks where I want to sit. He doesn't just grab the head of the conference room table--as all Kings and Queens typically do.

He's in a suit. He has nothing in his hands. He grabs a chair and he asks where do we start?  I have 30 minutes for this meeting.

He launches into his vision and explains how hard it is to get people to change. He explains that the hardest change of all is changing where the company has been most successful--where there is revenue already flowing in--in some cases gushing in.

"Why change now? Everything is good," he says. "This is what everyone tells me," he continues.

We talk some more--at around 15 minutes into our "interview" he tells me something that must be weighing on his mind. He says something that startles me. It is self-relfective. He says, some of the problems he has as a CEO, is that when he says something, too many people "go absolute" on him. The people hear what he says and they take it to extremes by applying it to everything in an "absolute" manner.  He has noticed this pattern and is aware that this could cause problems. He is  now very careful about what he says. He explains that he feels somewhat handcuffed, as he is not allowed to "think out loud" or to casually ponder ideas or issues any longer to others. This is the weight of a CEO, because as CEO his words are now of Biblical proportions.

Personally, I think that sucks. I am one of "those people" who like to think out loud. I have learned that this drives many black and white people crazy. So I have learned to be careful with what I am thinking.

He goes on. He says something else that is interesting if not also insightful. He explains, "When I see an issue in the culture, or something in my organization, I have to look back to trace my steps to see what I may have said that may have caused this thing."

It's an interesting meeting and conversation that started with my request for a meeting with the question, "What is it about certain vendors that makes you want to business with them?" To get this meeting, I explained I was doing research, and my promise was that if I ever gathered the research in one place (i.e. a report or book), I would provide the information--free of charge to him and his company. To tell the truth, I was pushed down to a few of his generals--which was fine--as they make most of the decisions.

The answers to the question "What is it about certain vendors that makes you to want to do business with them?" is now compiled and complete. It is now in book-form called "Clientize." The book explains how clients decide and choose one vendor over all the others to do business with. The book is the result of a twenty-five year study of asking clients this question and other related questions, about how clients determine how to buy a complex, strategic, multi-million-dollar solution.

If you would like a copy of this book--let me know.

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