What Kind of a Thick Skin Does a CEO Need?

CEO’s in the turnaround business need a thick skin. Generally, turnarounds depend on quick, tough decisions being implemented quickly. Not everyone is going to be happy.

Aside from the turnaround CEO’s, how good does a CEO need to be at taking the heat from stakeholders, including employees, the Board, funders and others? The answer obviously depends on how much heat a CEO is taking!

Organizational change and poor performance are the most common causes that put pressure on a CEO.

Leading organizational change

Some thoughts on leading organizational change and absorbing the heat along the way.

  1. Having a clear vision and mission is really helpful. If you’re going to take the heat, it’s important to be committed to a clear direction.
  2. Empathy is critical. Change is difficult for most people. Understanding that and having patience for the reaction it causes makes absorbing the heat easier to take.
  3. Having an outlet is helpful. Blowing up under pressure is the wrong thing to do. That can be avoided by sharing frustrations, thoughts and ideas with trusted confidantes who both listen patiently, provide support – and when needed, get you back on the right path.

Leading a poor performing organization

Some thoughts on leading a poorly performing organization and absorbing the heat along the way:

  1. Get your act together. Quickly. Being clear why the organization isn’t performing and having a solid plan for improvement won’t just help you keep your job, it will help you keep your cool.
  2. Take responsibility but share the leadership burden with others. There’s something very desperate about a sinking CEO taking on responsibility for everything. That never works. Reduce the pressure and accomplish more by engaging others in the plan for making things better.
  3. Verify and engage the support of your Board and leadership team. It’s better to know where you stand than to assume what their support level is. Knowing you’re fully supported is very motivating. Knowing you’re not supported maybe scary, but it helps clarify some of the priorities you need to sort!

Taking the heat is part of what a CEO signs up for. Nothing great has ever been accomplished without it. However, success doesn’t just depend on having a thick skin. It depends on having a great awareness of what’s happening and a plan for dealing with it.

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