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.