Whom do you allow to whisper in your ear?

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As leaders and entrepreneurs we are aware that people around us are trying to influence us and the decisions we make. The intensity and openness of this practice can vary depending on a number of factors.

Either way we are hammered every minute of the day with subtle and not-so-subtle messages about what we should be doing or not. The interesting question is how this affects us and our judgment in specific situations and over the course of time.

People influence us whether we like it or not. We cannot choose not to be influenced. What we can do is make conscious choices about who are allowed to influence us more than others. This should be an essential dimension of any leadership practice.

Many successful leaders have outside personal counsel as a way to offset the biases of influence that are a natural part of being a leader. Consider the story about Bill Campbell (links below) that has worked with Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs and a range of very successful leaders and entrepreneurs. One might think they have made it all by themselves, because that is often the image that is projected. But often they have speaking partners that have meant a lot for their development and success. It is rare that these external advisors get coverage as they inherently choose to be discrete in their practice. So do take a few minutes to read the story.

As leaders we never really know if we are seeing the whole picture. Never really know if we are being given the information we should be given. Never really know if the decisions we take are the best ones. Still we must use our best judgement and keep things moving ahead. A perfect decision doesn’t exist. There will always be trade-offs and unknowns. Some good some bad. This is the curse of leadership – but also the reward. The point here is to be able to distinguish between the issues that require our involvement and those that don’t. This is where people like Bill Campbell come into the picture.

Having one or several reliable and trustworthy speaking partners on the outside can prove to be invaluable to a leader. Designing a deliberate counter process to such psychological risks as group think and hubris is one important reason. But further than that there also is the real opportunity to improve important decisions by drawing upon the competences, experiences and candor of an independent outside advisor.

An outside speaking partner should of course have relevant business qualities such as excellent strategy skills and deep understanding of the inner life of organizations. But most important is having a solid ethical fibre, a balanced ego and an ability to focus the leader on what is best for the organization. Even if it means challenging the leader’s own self-interest.

So, in conclusion, successful leadership is seldom explained with only what one sees from the outside. More often than we might think there are carefully selected people in the background that are very important but who also know their role is to serve, not to be on stage.

Do you also need a wise person to whisper in your ear? For over 15 years I have worked together with leaders and entrepreneurs in a variety of organizations and strategic contexts. Please phone me or send me an email and I’ll send you a brief pitch of my work and the value I deliver.

Story about Bill Campbell – part 1.

Story about Bill Campbell – part 2.

– Jan

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