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Supporting CEOs

Adi Gaskell, CMI S enior managers are increasingly called upon to mentor and coach those in their teams, to act as a support through good and bad times. But who is supposed to support senior managers? Who can the boss turn to when problems arise?

A recent article in the Academy of Management suggests that more often than not the answer is ‘other leaders’. The researchers based their study on social identification theory, which suggests that we’re happy to help those that we can identify with, those that are like us. Their hypothesis was that this would extend to CEOs and that they would come to the aid of their peers when in need.

They used annual surveys to explore participants’ personal circumstances, their attitudes towards identity and a range of other behaviours, both towards other executives and their own organisation.

The study found that the average CEO offers help to their peers eight times per year, either to members of their own board, or via informal peer groups. As expected, those that identified themselves as members of such groups were more likely to offer help than those that were not part of such groups.

Does support matter?

Whilst the image of a narcissistic executive is sadly not uncommon, executives do report a need for such support networks. Each CEO included in the study reported personal problems, such as strained marital relations, which then distract and deplete their energy for work. If the problems are serious they often lead to a reduction in any activity that is not seen as obligatory. These ‘add-on’ behaviours are often the ones that separate the good from the great. Things such as mentoring their subordinates are key activities for the successful leader, but they’re often culled when stress comes knocking.

Support from other CEOs substantially mitigated this effect however. Interestingly, the support of peers was found to be twice as useful as support offered by friends and family. The modern image of leaders as supermen/women can lead to weaknesses being brushed under the carpet. Support from groups, such as the CMI Companions, is out there though; don’t be afraid to use it.

Adi Gaskell is Editor of the Management Blog from the Chartered Manaagement Institute (CMI):

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