Are You Trapped In a CEO Bubble?
October 5, 2017

How well do you really know what goes on in your company?

In “Bursting the CEO Bubble” by Hal Gregerson (Harvard Business Review), Hal speaks to one of the biggest challenges that CEOs and Executives face – the CEO bubble.

The CEO Bubble is the insulation of the role of being an executive. The CEO Bubble comes in two forms, people telling you what they think you want to hear and people being fearful to tell you things they believe you don’t want to hear. Both of these situations occur because people are trying to avoid confrontation and negative reactions from a person who is in a powerful position. This can be very isolating and lead to blind spots where you miss opportunities or threats to your business due to lack of real, on-the-court information and feedback.

To avoid creating a CEO Bubble, executives must intentionally seek out different situations where you are likely to experience the unexpected. You need to design what we call a “Listening Strategy”. A “Listening Strategy” is a plan that will take you outside your bubble and allow you to get access to real information about your company and the market without the filter people attach to the title of CEO.

To do this you need to develop a “Probing Mindset” which means to design questions and make observations that provide insight and intel into how well your organization is really doing. You will use this “Probing Mindset” with various stakeholders such as staff, clients, suppliers, bankers, other executives and entrepreneurs inside and outside your company.

As part of your “Probing Mindset” you need to develop the skill of listening and observing what is being communicated, but not being said such as body language, vagueness, and reactions to situations.

  1. Closed body language

Example: People don’t look at you when they talk to you or they look away or they are fidgety

  1. People are giving you vague answers

Example: You ask a question to get an update on a key project and the other person’s response is, “Everything is on track, no issues.”

  1. People exhibit hesitation or are nervous

Example: When you ask someone a question and you hear hesitation or nervousness in their voice ask them to pause and explain their point again. If the hesitation or nervousness gets worst you have a red flag.

  1. People are speaking in non-accountable language

Example: When you ask a question and you hear non-accountable language like – I think, we should be able to, I assume, or I tried, it is time to ask clarification questions by asking, “What do you mean by you assume that data in the report is accurate?”


Get out of the CEO Bubble with these 6 questions:

  1. “If you were in my job, what would you be focusing on?”
  2. “How is your project doing – what is working and not working?”
  3. “What is one challenge you are currently working on that has you stuck?”
  4. “What is a key trend in the industry that you see could impact our business in the next two years – positive or negative?”
  5. “What do you think our company should be exploring that could impact our business over the next 18 months?”
  6. “What is one thing you think I need to hear that people in the company are too afraid to tell me?”


Leadership Challenge:

Take the CEO Bubble Challenge. Click on the link below and answer the 10 questions under “Are you trapped in a CEO Bubble?” (Click the Read More link).

Bursting the CEO Bubble

The ideas from this article come from a HBR article entitled, “Bursting the CEO Bubble”, March/April 2017


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