Not that long ago I was coaching a Vice President that was really struggling with her relationship with the CEO of the company. On the surface it was hard to see what was at the core of the problem. The VP was smart, a hard worker, and eager to please the CEO by producing great results. She also had a very likable personality that seemed to compliment the personality of the CEO.
But there was tension mounting and the CEO was getting impatient with the VP. Even when I had discussions with him he seemed to be losing faith with this person. I was a bit perplexed. When speaking with the CEO I found that he couldn’t quite articulate his frustrations.
But taking a deeper look into the situation it became obvious as to what was at the heart of the matter. The VP, in an effort to support and inform the CEO, was actually bringing more stress and work to him. You see, she kept on identifying challenges and opportunities in the organization, that if embraced would have positive significant impact on the company. It was her intention to include the CEO in the new revelations and possibilities. She wanted to ensure that he was informed so she came to him with these areas of improvement or with great ideas that could really help the performance of the company. Overall she was showing deference to his role by bringing this first to his attention without making any decisions without him.
But here was the problem. The CEO, just like any other manager in work place today, carries the weigh of the world on their shoulders. (CEO’s in some ways feel it more as the success of the company ultimately lies with them.) Leaders are juggling many balls and just like this VP, probably does not have enough time during the day to do everything that needs to be done is the best manner possible. So when the VP was coming to the CEO with these great ideas, the CEO probably did not hear “I have identified an item that if we take it on will produce great benefits but I did not want to make a move without your insights and permission.” Most likely the CEO heard, “Here, I have another problem for you to solve and add to you 70 juggling balls.”
You have probably worked with a manager that has told you to “Come to me with solutions not just problems.” And I do think that this is a good start. It doesn’t take that much talent to point out problems but it does take talent to generate solutions. But of course you have to balance this approach with the reality that you should not make significant decisions without your manager’s blessing, in this case it was the CEO’s blessing. The correct method then is more thoughtful than an either-or approach. You probably should not be deciding willy-nilly on things nor should you be afraid to make any moves without your manager’s approval. If that was the case your manager probably would not need you in that position.
So you must first then determine ahead of time what decisions you will make unilaterally and what decisions you will make in concert with your manager. Generally, decisions that impact a large scope of the business will probably need to be discussed with your boss. And in regards to this situation we are speaking about where you find an opportunity or identify a barrier to success, it most likely requires a discussion with your manager. But it is how you bring the issue to your manager that matters. I would recommend you bring it to him or her well framed, thought through, with a variety of solutions with the one you recommend and why you came to this conclusion. Done well, you are not bringing another problem to be solved but rather you are bringing a solution to the manager that solves a problem for them. Do you see how valuable of a resource you become if you approach the situation like this? In the example today the VP became a solutions provider and problem solver to the CEO by bringing easy to grasp analysis and recommendations for his review. Soon again she became a well trusted resource and influential leader in the organization.