A ‘Safe’ CEO – Are You One?

October 13, 2019
By Rowan Belchers

A few years back, I heard a bunch of people discussing how they assess the quality of their friendships. One of the members in the group shared that she saw friendship through the lens of ‘safety’: the friends she felt safe around were the friends who really mattered.

I thought a lot about this relating to my own friendships and found – to my surprise – that many of the people who made me feel most safe were not my best friends. Which made me think more about this term ‘safety’ as it relates to leadership.

As a CEO, this boils down to the fact that the people in your organisation are – to a large degree – under your care. Their prospects are shaped by you: earnings, growth, values, career path. Your own view about where your responsibility begins and ends is crucial in this regard as it will materially shape your actions as a CEO.

And – to that point – I really like the word ‘safety’ as it is devoid of corporate-speak and goes directly to the point: are you fit to lead an organisation and it’s people. Are you ‘safe’?

In my view, the minimum requirements for a ‘safe’ CEO are as follows:

  • You have interrogated and panel-beaten your Strategy until you are sure that you are implementing a ‘winning hypothesis’ as opposed to a hope and a prayer that the business will succeed;
  • You are fully aware of your blind spots, weaknesses and biases so that they can be fully mitigated;
  • You read enough to make informed decisions about how to navigate your business through today’s complex landscape;
  • You have enough of an eye on culture, values and ethics;
  • You are genuinely excited by your job and your work so that you show up energised and motivated.

I prefer the idea of CEO’s working with a sense of joy and seeking their upside potential. However, it is healthy to have a few downside boundaries that keep us in check and this is one such boundary.

Be brave and answer these question unflinchingly. Then, get on with the journey of shaping yourself into an exceptional CEO.

Rowan Belchers

Rowan Belchers

Rowan Belchers is the founder and CEO of Lockstep, a business leadership consultancy. Lockstep works with CEO’s, executive teams and future leaders across the African continent, partnering with clients who seek customised leadership solutions. Rowan is a highly respected advisor to CEOs with over two decades’ experience in guiding businesses and their leaders towards reaching their fullest potential. Rowan leads The CEO Project, a Lockstep initiative.
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