Monday, November 19, 2007


Situation 1: He is gazing through the French window that provides scenic view of the sea from his top floor office. Not one, but millions of thoughts have cluttered his mind and no amount of physical comforts around him are able to provide him mental peace. Some really troubling emotions that he is struggling with - how to break open the news about the impending mass retrenchment to his next line management team. He clearly sees host of his colleagues who he will have to let go. In more than one ways, these people have stood by him in difficult times in the past.

He is also grappling with how to handle the Analysts’ meet that is round the corner where he is expecting the toughest questions ever.

And on a different plane altogether, he doesn’t know how to inform his aging parents that the time has come for them to be relocated in a housing complex, built specially for the senior citizens, where he has bought a home for them and it is now ready for occupation.

He has no one to talk to. No one to get advice from. His problems are his alone.

Situation 2: He just missed the promotion that he thought he already had in his pocket. He is still figuring out – why? With this promotion lost, he has lost his face to his family – his children were eager to go to the new country of his headquarters and the wife was not less excited. There are some in his staff who share his grief and some others are actually pleased. In short, Loss of face there as well.

He has no one to look up to for advice. He has no one around him to talk to.

My wise readers must surely have figured out by now that they know this person. Yes, he indeed is a CXO of a business organization – as lonely as others of his breed.

It’s a fact that every level you scale up on the corporate ladder, you leave behind a set of friends – or at least people who can relate to you, participate in your moments of joy, sorrow or otherwise. Arguably, business managers have both inducted and acquired professional training to effectively handle such roller coaster rides, however one cannot deny them the status of an emotional being. They too require emotional support, compassionate listening, active guidance and aids to cope up with emotional upheavals. They unfortunately have no peers who can do that job because they are sitting at the organizational pinnacles, away from the crowd and in very lonely states.

We need to create an institutionalized approach in providing the right kind of emotional and decision making support to these folks. Several approaches have been (and are being) tried by various people so far. They literally range from an executive coach, who is properly trained to do this specialized job, to a spiritual guru who shadows such senior executives wherever they go. It’s very interesting to note that, at one end of the pendulum is a formally educated business –aware executive coach who is trying to provide the same service that a spiritual guru at the other end of the pendulum is trying to offer! And different models and different personalities have clicked differently in varying circumstances. But the fundamental fact has already been established that there is a need for such a support system and to put it more precisely, such support system is needed in the form of a human being.

Without getting into semantics and for want of a better word let’s call this support system (person), ‘guide’.

So, what is this guide supposed to do?
Simply put, the guide is supposed to be available to the CXO when the CXO wants him. The CXO may want to toss an idea across or confide in with some information or may just vent out emotions and feel light at the end of such interactions with the guide. The guide will be available to the CXO to facilitate either the thinking process or the decision making process or just help him to maintain his emotional balance by staying connected with him at the heightened emotional plane. The range of issues that the CXO will address with the help of the guide will literally be undefined, thus creating a very free and un-inhibitive relationship between the two. The underlying principle here is to install a solid one person support structure for the CXO to stand by him/her in the thick & thin of his professional life. And the reason for not restricting the interactions to only profession centric issues is obvious – we all (in different measures) voluntarily/involuntarily allow personal issues to influence professional ones and vice-versa!

And what is he not supposed to do?
Given a requirement of absolutely highest level of trust between the two, the guide is not supposed to either share with anyone or leverage any information that he becomes privy to in course of this relationship. Confidentiality of information is a backbone of this relationship.

Is the idea really workable?
Of course, Yes!
As we saw above, a need definitely exists.
There are relationships of this type that have been institutionalized for ages e.g. doctor & patient, lawyer & client etc.

What should be the proactive safeguards to ensure that this works?
The guide should be willing to bind herself/himself to a formal confidentiality agreement signed between him & the CXO. We, however know that, usually moral contracts work better than the legal contracts. Therefore, a thorough checking on the guide’s capabilities to execute such sensitive jobs as well as his/her sound track record(past record indicating highest display of ethical behavior on part of the guide) will be a must before any formal appointment to this crucial role is finalized.

It may sound too commonsensical for me to mention it here, however I believe it’s very important to emphasize that while on the face of it this relationship has been created in aid of CXO, the real beneficiary is going to be the organization that the CXO heads. And, in any case, it is not envisaged that this arrangement will remain tenable in the long run unless it has the organizational blessings.

In today’s highly stressful corporate world, we must continue to explore every opportunity that will help us to provide emotional support and stress relieving environments to our employees and this initiative is particularly important because the collective emotional strength of the organization is heavily dependant on the strength and charatcter of its CXOs.


Unknown said...

You pose an extremely pertinent situation Abhay. It is indeed lonely at the top. I quote a piece ( from memory- so may not be exact) from the Naval Institute Proceedings that I read years ago, which I feel defines the situation of all personnel at the helm, "On every ship there is one man who alone is responsible for the sage navigation, accurate gunfire AND morale of his ship. In the hour of crisis, he can turn to no other. He is the Captain. He is the ship.". I am sure this defines the role of the CEO too. Equally am I sure he would have grown relationships over the years, that provide necessary support- emotional and executive, in reaching decisions of the nature projected by you. Not fixed, but generally assigned mentally, as to who is to be approached for what, and what may be the limitations or bias' of each. It is common knowledge that Kitchen cabinets have often run the affairs of nations. I for one feel that ultimately, the onus of responsibility, the crown of thorns, so to say, is on the CEO and no matter who he chooses to consult, the final step off the cliff HAS to be his. Institutionalizing it in any manner, would, to my mind not serve the purpose.

Anonymous said...

I am not completely in agreement with Rakeshs analysis though he has rightly said that CEOs would, by virtue of experience,have developed relationships which he can bank upon as support. Rakesh also rightly says that the CEO is the Captain of the ship and onus of responsibility is on the CEO. Till this point the analysis is correct. But he ends up by saying that since the final step is to be decided by him, 'institutionalising it would not serve the purpose'. I beg to differ here. Let me elaborate--

In situation 1 mentioned in Abhays article, the CEO is facing three problems at the same time --how to break the news of retrenchment, the problem of aging parents and the Analyst meet. There is a high degree of EQ involved but there is also functionality involved. He has to highlight poor financials to his team as a reason to justify retrenchment -- but he cannot overemphasise the poor prospects at the anaysts meet. If the Analyst meet goes wrong, it would be picked up by the media and would impact stock prices more than what was already factored into the stock market. He has to therefore carefully balance and provide differring angles on financials, bear the burden of breaking the bad news to his team, be strong himself to carry their emotional burden and not feel that he has let down his parents.

It is a cocktail advise needed of someone who knows him, knows his company and Industry and the situation it is in ,with skill sets that include high EQ, functional expertise and wide experience in having experienced similar situations. While the handling of the situation finally remains the CEO s , the brainstorm with his 'friend,philosopher and guide '-- the Exec Coach -- would be invaluable.

I would suppose Exec Coaching also has a place for a level below the CEO. It could be say in a large MNC where the CEO has direct reportees spread out in different geographies. They would need perhaps in 50% situations help from a mentor on EQ /People related advise and in 50% of cases a functional sounding board ( marketing, sales, finance, tech) on difficult decisions/analysis. This helps the organisation because it relieves the pressure on the CEO who has a large span of control.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rakesh and Ranjit...Thanks a ton for your comments.As you know, the purpose behind my blogs is to generate some discussion--and in that context, I appreciate every view that is expressed in your response.Cheers...Abhay

Abhay Valsangkar said...

From: Abhay Valsangkar
Sent: Tuesday, November 20, 2007 4:57 PM
To: 'Joshi, Amol'
Subject: RE: My blog

Thanks Amol. No, I’ve not thought abt publishing it as yet,but it sounds like a good idea to do it…Cheers…Abhay

From: Joshi, Amol
Sent: Tuesday, November 20, 2007 4:54 PM
To: Abhay Valsangkar
Subject: RE: My blog

Hi Abhay,

The article is really good and i really liked it. I have taken the liberty to forward it to our Financial Controller.

BTW, have you explored the idea of getting this published in any magazine?


Abhay Valsangkar said...

Hi Amar,

Thanks for your response as well as comments. Yes, I would certainly love to meet up with your HR team. Pls let me know when.


Dear Abhay
" Guide" is indeed a factual but thought provoking bunch of thoughts.
Just be on the lighter vein, I recollect one kissa shared by MD of my first orgnisation Lubrizol. It goes--
In one such bog organisation a CXO resigns and leaves 3 sealed envelopes to the new incumbent. The new commer is indeed bit anxious to know the contents of the packs, but is advised only to open them in crisis.
However the six months pass and the trouble starts.
the first envelope is opened-- on the top right side it says-- blame yr predissessor, all his deeds and the next 6 months should be thru.

The time comes when he ndded to open the second one. In the middle it says - blame the economic conditions and govt policies and the next 6 months should be without any trouble.

However he is restless and opens the thidr and the last gift for him. To his surprise and shock, it says at the bottom left- quit the job and prepare 3 envelopes for yr successor.
The situation is really turbulant and fittest of the survival. I even given to understand that fes major orgns the top brass is given the lessons on 'pshysical and mental health.

Keep writing. Suggest publish a e'book for all of us. Meanwhile I am also checking at my end if you could be invited to speak to our HR team. Hope you would love it.
Cheers and all the best pains to penn--

Anonymous said...


Lonliness at the top is probably it's own creation, in way you have an army of people to act on your order so you may have to have lonly time to review some of own act which can be seen as sole searching. But bear in mind that everyone at his level is alone as he is responsible for his own decission and resposiblity.

I prefer to go back to stories told to me as child that some time king was known as peoples king some kings were seens "King" and treated as an abnormals.

In short,I would like to reccomend that leave your thorn, try to be an ordinary which give more insight into present so exposes you as social animal. In rganisation above certain level you have to have some hurdles not bariers which people have to overcome to give a feel of responsibility. This is balancing act between lot and a cost of grace.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mahendra for your comment..Cheers...Abhay

Anonymous said...

Hi Abhay

Great to have landed on your page. You should write and get your articles published.

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks for your comments Amit. I look forward to our interaction on the blog as well. Cheers...Abhay

Anonymous said...

Good post.

Reshma Amit said...

Hi Abhay Dada

It is always so nice to read your wonderful thoughts through your blogs! And learn so much about the people
Around the organizations.
It reminds me of the the story of "The giraffe and the elephant " .

Thanks !