Six Hats of the CEO: Priest

CEO roles and responsibilities
English: Traditional mitra simlex (white damas...

Traditional mitra simlex (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sixth and final hat in this series is one I am adding to Jim Schleckser’s work on The High Leverage Roles of a CEO: the Priest hat. I was reared Catholic so I use the term priest, but feel free to substitute your own term for spiritual advisor. While wearing the Priest hat, you are concerned with the morale of the organization. You are trying to make people feel good.

Like a priest tending to his flock, one of the best ways to assume this role is to go out and talk to your employees. I am a big proponent of management by walking around, and when I do this I am often wearing the Priest hat.

Any time you have a large number of people on a team who care about what they are doing, there will be times when tempers flare or personalities clash. This is a natural part of human interactions, but the CEO can often play a particularly powerful role in maintaining strong morale. Often employees will want to tell you about their problems or frustrations that are occurring in their jobs.

As a young CEO I would usually react to these conversations by immediately jumping into action and trying to solve the issue. Many times this would cause problems and undermine the executive who was responsible for that particular area. I have learned that often the best thing to do is just listen and ask questions to make sure you understand the source of the frustration. Once I think I understand the cause of the problem, I usually coach the employee on how they can work within the organizational structure to achieve the results they desire.

Since they are usually complaining about their manager, I must be careful with how I handle the information. Like a priest who hears confession, I don’t use the information I have gained directly, but I keep it in the back of my mind. I may address it tangentially in a coaching session while protecting my source.

For example, I am proud to say I have never had to deal with legal problems of harassment or discrimination in any of my businesses. I believe by wearing the Priest hat, I have heard about many small problems before they could escalate to a serious issue.

Building trusted relationships with front-line employees is invaluable to a CEO and can prevent bigger problems from developing in the organization. This is the value derived from wearing the Priest hat.

In my next post, I’ll sum up this six-part series and give some pointers for how much time CEOs should spend wearing each hat.

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