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Aaron Hurst Headshot

Wanted: CEO Magician

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There is something almost magical about CEOs. We aren't held to the same laws of science as other professionals. Here is one magic trick I can share with you: 50% of my job doesn't even require one minute of work each week. Not bad, eh?

By simply knowing a CEO exists, my organization and team act differently. They anticipate my reaction to decisions and actions and incorporate that into their work. It is like the unmanned police car parked by the side of the highway. Simply seeing it reminds drivers to slow down.

This goes deeper. Not unlike the Wizard of Oz, many CEOs understand the power of working behind a curtain and letting others project power and powers onto a leader.

We are all insecure, and even more so when we compare our actual capabilities to those projected onto us from those on the other side of the curtain. The longer we stay behind the curtain the scarier it is to come out and reveal our true and flawed human selves.

This was one of the key lessons Chan Suh, founder of and Taproot Foundation board member, shared with our leadership fellows recently. When the economy tanked in 2001, he failed to let his team know that he couldn't personally fix the global economy.

Sounds insane that employees would think he could, but when you are part of a successful and innovative firm that has only known success, you start to believe that your CEO really has magical powers. These magical powers seem to make your organization immune from what is happening outside your walls. A wonderful and safe illusion is created by teh co-dependent relationship between a CEO and their team.

But this, of course, sets up the CEO to go from magician to scapegoat. When the firm is hit with reality and it is clear the CEO is human, the surprise and disappointment is profound. Employees respond like the kid who realizes his parents are anything but perfect.

In these turbulent times it is critical for all CEOs (and leaders) to come out from behind their curtains. We need to be clear about what we can control and be accountable for and what are the realities of our environment. We owe it to ourselves and our teams.