It’s a feeling is so commonly held by successful people that it’s become an idiom: “It’s lonely
at the top.”
This idiom speaks truth for many executives, and research shows that these executives aren’t
alone in how they feel. A survey from RHR International found that half of CEOs experience
feelings of loneliness in their careers, 61 percent of whom believe that this feeling hinders
Additionally, a 2018 study published in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies
concluded that senior managers are lonelier inside and outside of work because of the
demands of their role. This is especially true for executives like CEOs, who have no true peers
While the top can be lonely, it doesn’t need to be. Here are six steps executives can take to
feel less lonely at the top.
1) Executive coaching
By working with an executive coach, leaders will push themselves to grow while giving
themselves the gift of mentorship. Executive coaches listen to problems and provide real
feedback, something many executives can’t get at work.
Sure, an executive coach can’t be workday buddies, nor can they share the burden of
responsibilities, but they can be a great guide. They’ve been there, done that. Every executive
coach has made their share of tough decisions, likely experienced loneliness, and come out
the other side to tell the tale.
2) Mastermind groups
Some of the finest minds in history rarely felt lonely at the top—instead, they reached the top
and climbed higher. Why? Because they sought worthy peers to challenge and hold them
This is called a mastermind group. Napoleon Hill, author of “Think and Grow Rich,” wrote
that mastermind groups allow executives to accomplish more in a year than an entire lifetime
of working alone.
Peers are key to the success of these groups. When executives open up about goals, problems,
and loneliness in a mastermind group, they can see that others have similar issues. Better
yet, these others are willing to listen, provide advice, and hold the executives accountable to
It’s hard to feel lonely amid a group of aspirational people who push each other toward
3) Vistage groups
Vistage groups bring together the best of executive coaching and mastermind groups.
An executive who attends a Vistage group will quickly get to know the executive coach who
leads the group. The coach will give feedback, listen to problems, and push executives to be
the best versions of themselves. These coaches will also help expand the group’s horizons by
bringing in outside experts.
Meanwhile, the other members of the group—each from different industries—will talk about
their successes and struggles, including loneliness. This allows other executives to see that
other executives, even in far-flung industries, experience their same fears, hopes and dreams.
Taken together, Vistage groups foster a powerful experience. They allow executives to see
that they aren’t so alone—there are others on their same path.
4) Mindset training
Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck has spent her career researching the growth
versus fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that their skills are capped out—
those with a growth mindset believe that they can always learn more.
When executives change their mindset from fixed to growth, the world opens to them. A
growth mindset gives executives permission to learn from everywhere and everyone. As
Dweck writes, those in the growth mindset move away from “a judge-and-be-judged
framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework.”
“Their commitment is to growth, and growth take plenty of time, effort, and mutual support,”
Dweck writes. And that support, which an executive will give and receive, makes the world a
less lonely place.
5) A great executive leadership team
Though half of executives reportedly feel lonely at work, that leaves half who don’t. Those
who don’t feel lonely likely built a great executive team.
Executives should take great care when forming their executive team, as they must be sure
that they can trust and honestly communicate with their team. That’s because a strong
executive team is more than just employees. Its members can make great decisions, give new
ideas, and provide top executives with tough feedback. This will make work more interactive
and far less lonely.
6) A common vision
It’s tough to feel lonely when your team shares your vision. And a shared vision is exactly
what will bring employees closer to executives, according to a survey cited in Harvard
The survey found that 72 percent of employees and 88 percent of those in senior roles want a
leader who is forward-looking. With a more willing group of employees and executive, we’re
willing to bet the top is less lonely.
7) Hobbies and activities
Executives seeking excellence at work may also find value in seeking excellence outside of
work. A great hobby or group activity allows for some play time, which helps reduce stress
and increase connection with others.
For example, a paper published in the Journal of Psychology of Science and Technology finds
that Nobel prize winning scientists are 2.85-times more likely than non-winners to have an
artistic hobby, such as acting, dancing, taking photographs, or even blowing glass. In
business, one example is Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, who also DJs under the
moniker DJ D-Sol.
While DJing may not be for every executive, an outside hobby is a great way to play, master a
new craft, and feel connected.
Find your community
Vistage members often tell us that they feel less alone after joining one of our groups. Once
they’ve seen that other executives fight the same battles as they do, Vistage members feel less
lonely. Their struggle is validated.
That’s one of the big benefits of joining a Vistage group: You can see how other executives
deal with their issues while realizing that there are other people in the same position as you.
The world isn’t such a lonely place after all.
If you want to be part of a community of executives, find a Vistage peer advisory group near
My wish for you is Peace. That peace can come from a variety of sources, but they all start with you.
What kind of balance do you have? I’m not talking about being able to stand on one foot (but my friend
who is a trainer would say that is a good indicator of physical well-being). I am talking about balance
between the things that energize you and the things that drain you. Or the things that add to your tank
and the things that deplete your tank. Beliefs that I subscribe to claim that you should have 3 positive
interactions for every negative, or 75% of your time should be in activity that energizes you and 25%
should be in activity that might challenge you.
Why the 3 to 1 ratio? Unlike a regular bank account, where when you take a dollar it only takes one to
replace it. In your emotional energy account, when you take a unit, it takes 3 to replace it. So, if you
have a challenging conversation coming up, what positive things can you do to fill your tank so you can
have it and have it well. What can you do to make it not so challenging or conflict-ridden?
Why am I even suggesting that you have 25% of your time in challenging activity? If you aren’t
challenged, you aren’t growing. If you look back in your life, it was the struggles that got you where you
are now. When things were rosy, it was fun, but after the rosy time, not much had changed. After a
challenging time, you can look back and see growth, change, opportunities, a new approach or a new
I was meeting with a client recently and she told me that she looked for things that made her
uncomfortable because that was how she grew. She has some incredible growth stories to be sure.
That’s someone I want around my table. I will be inspired to grow and to put myself in those situations
Who is around your table? What are you doing to challenge yourself? What are you doing to ensure
you are doing things that fill you? If your Energize/Drain Tank is out of balance, what is one thing you
can do to get it closer to 75/25?
Peace is a beautiful thing. It is my wish for you. Being intentional about where our energy is spent and
replenished is one way to get there.
THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC has upended
many traditional business practices. When
it comes to recruiting, the crisis has not so
much disrupted as accelerated shifts in the
talent landscape that were already under
way, leaving many companies poorly served
by their current hiring practices. In a period
of steep unemployment, it might seem that
companies looking to add workers would be
in the driver’s seat. But job openings have
also been rising in recent months, meaning
that competition for top talent remains
keen—and in uncertain times, bringing
on the right people is more important
A recent study from research and
advisory firm Gartner examines those
shifts in the workforce landscape and
lays out a road map for navigating the
new one. The researchers identified three
trends that are rendering traditional
recruitment tactics obsolete.
First, the skills needed in many roles
have an increasingly short shelf life,
owing in part to more-frequent and
disruptive technological breakthroughs.
A 2019 survey of 3,500 managers found
that only 29% of new hires have all the
skills required for their current roles, let
alone for future ones. The research finds
that in key functions such as finance,
IT, and sales, positions filled today will
require up to 10 new skills within 18
months. It also documents rising uncer-
tainty about what skills will be needed
in current and future jobs as the surge
in remote work sparks the redesign or
automation of many tasks.
Second, the talent pools recruiters
have routinely tapped are becoming
outmoded. Highly gifted candidates
can now be found outside traditional
talent clusters, such as leading univer-
sities and technical colleges. More and
more people are acquiring critical skills
informally on the job—or even in their
own basements. “Work lulls and layoffs
have driven a boom in virtual learning,
giving workers new autonomy in devel-
oping skills outside their day jobs,” the
Finally, candidates are increasingly
selective about whom they work for, so
firms need a compelling “employment
value proposition,” which might involve
anything from competitive compensa-
tion and benefits to career-development
opportunities and a reputation for stellar
management. Talented candidates,
particularly at high levels, are weighing
opportunities differently. Factors such
as meaningful work and proximity to
family have taken on added importance
during the pandemic. The freedom
(often the imperative) to work remotely
and to manage one’s own schedule has
increased employees’ expectations that
they can exert considerable control
over the design of their jobs. Especially
in a period of high unemployment,
the researchers say, when people are
reluctant to leave a secure position and
take a chance on a new one, companies
need to offer employee experiences that
candidates truly value.
To adjust to these trends and build the
workforces they need, companies should
focus on two key courses of action.
Hire for potential, not experience.
The first step in adjusting to the new
landscape is to stop thinking about
hiring as a matter of replacing specific
employees, the researchers say. When
looking to fill a vacancy, too often
managers simply put together a profile
mirroring that of the person who has left,
perhaps tacking on a few new require-
ments—the equivalent of saying, “I want
Sally plus these three other qualifica-
tions,” the researchers write. At best, this
yields candidates who are prepared for
yesterday’s challenges but probably not
ready for tomorrow’s.
Human resources leaders should
push hiring managers to look beyond
the immediate needs of their business
units and consider what skills the larger
organization must acquire to succeed in
the future. “The first question HR asks
a hiring manager shouldn’t be ‘Who do
you need?’ The better question is ‘What
do we need?’” says Dion Love, a vice
president in Gartner’s HR practice. “HR
executives are positioned to drive this
conversation because they should have
an understanding of long-term talent
gaps at the organizational level.”
Hiring for skills presents its own
challenges, of course, including design-
ing assessments that reliably identify
potential. “Employers are asking, ‘How
can I test for curiosity? For learning
agility?’” says Lauren Smith, also a
vice president in Gartner’s HR prac-
tice. “They are scanning résumés for
indicators such as success in a variety
of roles and for transportable rather
than industry-specific experience. It’s
no longer a question of ‘Is this person
When hiring managers place less
emphasis on academic degrees, certi-
fications, and formal experience, they
will naturally look beyond traditional
talent pools—the second course of
action. Recruiters should target the
“total skills market,” looking at in-house
talent with adjacent skills, candidates
whose skills are self-taught, and—
especially with the ubiquity of remote
work—people in different geographic
locations. Recruiting outside high-
priced talent clusters can reduce costs.
It should also boost diversity, because
nontraditional pools tend to contain
more women and people of color than
are found in the usual recruiting hot
Move beyond Ping-Pong and free
snacks. It’s critical that companies
understand how candidates view them,
the researchers say, and if necessary,
find ways to boost those perceptions.
Prospective hires are scrutinizing orga-
nizations’ responses to the pandemic
and looking to see how companies have
helped—or failed to help—their employ-
ees find a comfortable work/life balance.
In a survey of 2,800 job candidates
conducted as part of the research, 65%
reported halting the application process
because they found some aspects of the
job or the company unattractive. “The
increased scrutiny and workers’ demand
for more influence…make it difficult for
recruiters to rely on their usual incen-
tives,” the researchers write.
In managing their employee value
propositions, organizations might take
a page from the playbook of consumer
goods companies. “Firms must under-
stand candidates’ expectations” and
craft positions accordingly, “in the
same manner in which they tailor their
products to customers,” Love says. HR
departments at some leading companies
hold focus groups to assess job seekers’
expectations, benchmark their offerings
against those of competitors, and scour
social media and job-review sites such
as Glassdoor to understand how they are
viewed by current, past, and potential
The pandemic is challenging compa-
nies to rethink traditional ways of doing
business—thus providing an opportunity
to reform outdated recruiting practices.
“In my conversations with clients, I’ve
found that the pandemic has opened
their eyes,” Love says. “The world was
already transforming, but now the
changes are much easier to see.”
In high school, I missed an entire track season due to an injury, and returned just in time for the state championship. When I asked my coach what place I should be running for in that race, he reminded me that at the beginning of the season my goal had been to win the state championship. I challenged him on how winning could even be possible given I’d been injured all year, and he responded that I shouldn’t run if I didn’t believe I could win. But I wanted to compete, and my coach went on to show me exactly where he thought I should take the lead in the race. Sure enough, I won the race by 200 yards. I still have the newspaper article with the headline “Long Shot First in Boys.” I could have settled for second or third place, and excused it because of my injury. But my coach taught me how powerful the mind can be in achieving success, how important it is to set clear goals, to have a clear vision, and to avoid making excuses. All of those lessons have stayed with me throughout my life.
As I’ve watched other leaders find their own unexpected sources of success throughout their leadership journeys, here are a few of the sources of success I’ve seen great leaders lean on:
- Be open to the possibility that there is more than one right answer. Successful leaders acknowledge there are several paths to success. When leaders are vulnerable and transparent, it allows room for constructive feedback and helps avoid confirmation bias. Listening without interjecting long-held beliefs allows for unexpected collaboration, creativity, and innovation.
- Believe you have something to learn from everyone. Many years ago a mentor taught me the power of asking questions, being open to learning from others, and collaborating to achieve a better outcome. It changed my leadership trajectory dramatically. Being open to feedback and self-analysis creates a lot of space that opens up possibilities for success. When leaders stray away from humility, it closes the door on learning and improving.
- Have clear, unambiguous goals. It is no secret that the key to success is hard work, but hard work alone doesn’t guarantee success. Effective leaders work toward clear goals, and they don’t justify poor results when goals aren’t achieved. Rather, they evaluate what could have been done differently and keep moving toward the goal. In the wise words of Earl Nightingale, “You become what you think about.” This has proven true for leaders who take time to set realistic, success-driven goals for themselves and their organizations.
- Stay close to customers for inspiration and ideas. To understand what customers truly find valuable is vital to success. When leaders ask questions and listen to customer feedback, they are so much more effective. Customers can also be sources for new ideas that lead to fresh solutions and innovations.
- Focus on mission, vision and purpose. I’ve observed that effective leaders return to their guiding principles each time they need to make a key decision. And when leaders communicate strategy to their team rather than focusing on individual tactics, everybody aligns around the key pillars of the strategy.
Strong leaders are curious, seek to understand, listen, and are open-minded. They know the tools that lead to success can come from unexpected places and people, from within and outside their organization. Leaders who are open to these unexpected sources of success can change the course of their careers and their companies.
The biggest danger facing an accomplished CEO isn’t another lockdown, competition or technological obsolescence. The looming threat, which is a product of success, is CEO Syndrome: the externally-inflated ego that leads a CEO to be certain of their own judgment and allows them to self-insulate from honest feedback and diversity of opinion.
Fred, our prototype CEO, started out like any other entrepreneur. In the early days of his startup, everyone was questioning him. His engineers argued with him about product design, and his salespeople pushed back on pricing. The team had epic battles in the conference room, arguing with passion, each perspective offering nuance and depth. Because Fred’s product was so innovative, customers were confused; some said they didn’t need it, and others told him what was wrong with it. Venture capitalists said there was no market. Industry leaders dismissed Fred and his product out of hand. Fred’s ideas were challenged a thousand times a day, and those early failures and rejections forced him and the team to redesign the product, find the perfect product-market fit, and articulate the product’s value proposition.
After extensive modification as a result of this feedback, the product’s ultimate success in the face of all the naysayers has convinced everyone—including Fred—that Fred is a visionary. This is when danger strikes. As Fred’s company grows, he hires new employees who never knew Fred in his bumbling early stage. They only see the articulate, confident CEO, and so they speak to him with caution and deference. When Fred shares an unformed idea, they nod instead of challenging him, which only compounds his confidence that he is the smartest person in the room.
Fred is treated differently by outsiders as well. He’s now considered an industry expert. People write articles about Fred, describing him as a luminary. They take Fred’s picture and ask him questions, as if he is the oracle at Delphi. When he says something stupid, people don’t call him out on it. They merely wonder, mystified, what they’re missing. Fred is interviewed for podcasts and meets important people at fancy dinners. He’s invited as a keynote speaker at large events, where he never bothers to wear a name tag or introduce himself, because people already know him. Afterwards, strangers crowd to meet him. When young entrepreneurs present their novel ideas, which could become a competitive threat to his company, Fred dismisses them out of hand. At the office, when others have ideas, he tells the team to focus.
Over time, Fred comes to feel invincible—like the leader he always imagined himself to be. It’s so wonderful for him, this feeling that he can do no wrong. Empowered by “CEO Syndrome,” he’s finally liberated from self-doubt and that grating conflict with others. In the face of challenge, when his employees are looking to him for direction, he’s too much of a leader to let them down by asking, “So, what would you do?” Instead, he declares a direction, right or wrong—an idea that is not fully-formed, tested for holes, or optimized. The company’s conference room by this point seats over a hundred people and nobody is going to stand up to question him. After all, he’s Fred; he’s a visionary. Fred’s primal urge for validation pulls him toward blindness. Now that he’s successful, he can find a way to dodge the unpleasantness of conflict, but it’s at his own risk, because what feels to him like failure and rejection—his ideas being shot down—is actually what helps move an organization in the right direction.
Without outside feedback, there are an infinite number of ways to derail a business. Fred might push the company to develop a product that customers don’t want. He could demoralize his employees by micromanaging instead of delegating. After dismissing a new competitor, Fred might be blindsided when they overtake the market with a better product. The problem is that Fred attributes his achievements to his own capabilities and vision, and believes they came despite his early failure and rejection. He doesn’t realize that failure and rejection were a key enabler to his accomplishments.
The only antidote to this risk of losing touch is for Fred to retain a small group that is willing—even eager—to challenge him. With a diverse set of backgrounds and skill sets, this group offers unique perspectives which open Fred’s mind. These people might be his senior management team, a group of advisors, customers or his board of directors—ideally all of them. They’re well-informed, they care about his company’s success, and Fred respects their opinions.
These people argue heatedly, and they might infuriate Fred. They force him to rethink his suppositions, reconsider possibilities and articulate the essence of the matter at hand. As they argue their points, he’s tempted to cut them off so he can just do what he wants. If Fred is smart, he will not ignore what they say, nor will he take a vote, but he will listen and reformulate his thoughts and plans according to what he learns. He will inevitably reach better decisions.
Nobody is excited for all the failure and rejection of the early days building a startup. Fred will never thank all those prospects at the first trade show who told him that his demo was crappy. He doesn’t feel warm and fuzzy remembering all the venture capital rejections. But if Fred is smart, he’ll surround himself with people who challenge him. He’ll ask questions, listen, learn, and grow, just as he did when he was getting his startup off the ground. If he’s brave enough not to succumb to “CEO Syndrome,” he’ll cross his fingers for more small failures and rejections to fuel his future success.
THE LEGEND OF Steve Jobs is that he transformed our lives with the strength of his convictions.
The key to his greatness, the story goes, was his ability to bend the world to
his vision. The reality is that much of Apple’s success came
from his team’s pushing him to rethink his positions. If Jobs
hadn’t surrounded himself with people who knew how to
change his mind, he might not have changed the world.
For years Jobs insisted he would never make a phone.
After his team finally persuaded him to reconsider, he
banned outside apps; it took another year to get him to
reverse that stance. Within nine months the App Store had
a billion downloads, and a decade later
the iPhone had generated more than
$1 trillion in revenue.
Almost every leader has studied
the genius of Jobs, but surprisingly few
have studied the genius of those who
managed to influence him. As an orga-
nizational psychologist, I’ve spent time
with a number of people who succeeded
in motivating him to think again, and
I’ve analyzed the science behind their
techniques. The bad news is that plenty
of leaders are so sure of themselves that
they reject worthy opinions and ideas
from others and refuse to abandon their
own bad ones. The good news is that it
is possible to get even the most over-
confident, stubborn, narcissistic, and
disagreeable people to open their minds.
A growing body of evidence shows
that personality traits aren’t necessarily
consistent from one situation to the
next. Think of the dominant manager
who is occasionally submissive, the
hypercompetitive colleague who
sporadically becomes cooperative, or
the chronic procrastinator who finishes
some projects early. Every leader has an
if…then profile: a pattern of responding
to particular scenarios in certain ways.
If the dominant manager is interacting
with a superior…then she becomes sub-
missive. If the competitive colleague is
dealing with an important client…then he
shifts into cooperative mode. If the pro-
crastinator has a crucial deadline coming
up…then she gets her act together.
Computer code is a string of if…then
commands. Humans are a lot messier,
but we too have predictable if…then
responses. Even the most rigid people
flex at times, and even the most open-
minded have moments when they shut
down. So if you want to reason with
people who seem unreasonable, pay
attention to instances when they—or
others like them—change their minds.
Here are some approaches that can help
you encourage a know-it-all to recognize
when there’s something to be learned,
a stubborn colleague to make a U-turn,
a narcissist to show humility, and a
disagreeable boss to agree with you.
ASK A KNOW-IT-ALL TO
EXPLAIN HOW THINGS WORK
The first barrier to changing someone’s
view is arrogance. We’ve all encountered
leaders who are overconfident: They
don’t know what they don’t know. If you
call out their ignorance directly, they
may get defensive. A better approach is
to let them recognize the gaps in their
In a series of experiments, psychol-
ogists asked Yale students to rate their
knowledge of how everyday objects,
such as televisions and toilets, work.
The students were supremely confident
in their knowledge—until they were
asked to write out their explanations
step-by-step. As they struggled to artic-
ulate how a TV transmits a picture and
a toilet flushes, their overconfidence
melted away. They suddenly realized
how little they understood.
Trying to explain something complex
can be a humbling experience—even for
someone like Steve Jobs.
A few years ago I met Wendell
Weeks, the CEO of Corning, which
makes the glass for the iPhone. That
relationship began when Jobs reached
out to him, frustrated that the plastic
face of the iPhone prototype kept
getting scratched. Jobs wanted strong
glass to cover the display, but his team
at Apple had sampled some of Corning’s
glass and found it too fragile. Weeks
explained that he could think of three
ways to develop something better.
“I don’t know that I’d make the glass
for you,” he told Jobs, “but I’d be very
happy to talk with any members of your
team who are technical enough to talk
this thing through.” Jobs responded,
“I’m technical enough!”
When Weeks flew out to Cupertino,
Jobs tried to tell him how to make the
glass. Instead of arguing, Weeks let him
explain the way his preferred method
would work. As Jobs started talking, it
became clear to both of them that he
didn’t fully understand how to design
glass that wouldn’t shatter. That was
the opening Weeks needed. He walked
to a whiteboard and said, “Let me teach
you some science, and then we can
have a great conversation.” Jobs agreed,
and Weeks eventually sketched out
the glass composition, complete with
molecules and sodium and potassium
ion exchanges. They ended up doing
it Weeks’s way. The day the iPhone
launched, Weeks received a message
from Jobs that’s now framed in his office:
“We couldn’t have done it without you.”
LET A STUBBORN PERSON
SEIZE THE REINS
A second obstacle to changing people’s
opinions is stubbornness. Intractable
people see consistency and certainty as
virtues. Once made up, their minds seem
to be set in stone. But their views become
more pliable if you hand them a chisel.
In a classic experiment, psycholo-
gists surveyed students regarding their
beliefs about control: Did they see their
successes and failures as determined pri-
marily by internal forces, such as effort
and choice, or by external forces, such
as luck and fate? Stubborn people tend
to believe in internal control: They think
outcomes can be subject to their will.
Next the students evaluated a proposed
change to their university’s grading
system. One third read a lightly persua-
sive argument that the new system had
been widely accepted at other schools
and appeared to be one of the best
ever used. Another third read a more
forceful argument: This was such a good
procedure that they would have to rate it
highly. The final third got no persuasive
argument. All the students then rated
the new proposal on a scale from 1 (very
poor) to 10 (very good).
Their reactions depended on their
beliefs about control. In people who
favored external control, both the light
and the forceful arguments generated
enthusiasm about the new system.
They were comfortable changing their
minds in the face of outside influence.
People who favored internal control
were unmoved by the light argument
and were moved in the other direction
by the forceful argument. In other
words, when someone tried hard to alter
their thinking, they snapped back like a
A solution to this problem comes
from a study of Hollywood screenwrit-
ers. Those who pitched fully formed con-
cepts to executives right out of the gate
struggled to get their ideas accepted.
Successful screenwriters, by contrast,
understood that Hollywood executives
like to shape stories. Those writers
treated the pitch more like a game of
catch, tossing an idea over to the suits,
who would build on it and throw it back.
Not long ago I was introduced to a
former Apple engineer named Mike Bell,
who knew how to play catch with Steve
Jobs. In the late 1990s Bell was listening
to music on his Mac computer and get-
ting annoyed at the thought of lugging
the device with him from room to room.
When he suggested building a separate
box to stream audio, Jobs laughed at
him. When Bell recommended stream-
ing video, too, Jobs fired back, “Who the
f— would ever want to stream video?”
Bell told me that when evaluating
other people’s ideas, Jobs often pushed
back to assert his control. But when Jobs
was the one generating ideas, he was
more open to considering alternatives.
Bell learned to plant the seeds of a new
concept, hoping that Jobs would warm
to it and give it some sunlight.
Research shows that asking ques-
tions instead of giving answers can over-
come people’s defensiveness. You’re not
telling your boss what to think or do;
you’re giving her some control over the
conversation and inviting her to share
her thoughts. Questions like “What
if?” and “Could we?” spark creativity
by making people curious about what’s
One day Bell casually mentioned that
since no one would have a Mac in every
room, streaming on other devices was
going to be a big deal. Then, instead of
pressing his argument, he asked, “What
if we built a box that would let you play
content?” Jobs was still skeptical, but
as he imagined the possibilities, he
started to take some ownership of the
idea and eventually gave Bell the green
light. “I knew I’d succeeded when he
was arguing my point and proposing the
project I’d pitched him,” Bell recalls. “By
the end he was telling people to get out
of my way.” That project helped pave the
way for Apple TV.
FIND THE RIGHT WAY TO
PRAISE A NARCISSIST
A third hurdle in the way of changing
minds is narcissism. Narcissistic leaders
believe they’re superior and special,
and they don’t take kindly to being told
they’re wrong. But with careful framing,
you can coax them toward acknowledg-
ing that they’re flawed and fallible.
It’s often said that bullies and narcis-
sists have low self-esteem. But research
paints a different picture: Narcissists
actually have high but unstable self-
esteem. They crave status and approval
and become hostile when their fragile
egos are threatened—when they’re
insulted, rejected, or shamed. By appeal-
ing to their desire to be admired, you can
counteract their knee-jerk tendency to
reject a difference of opinion as criticism.
Indeed, studies in both the United States
and China have shown that narcissistic
leaders are capable of demonstrating
humility: They can believe they’re gifted
while acknowledging their imperfec-
tions. To nudge them in that direction,
affirm your respect for them.
In 1997, not long after returning to
Apple as CEO, Jobs was discussing a new
suite of technology at the company’s
global developer conference. During
the audience Q&A, one man harshly
criticized the software and Jobs himself.
“It’s sad and clear that on several counts
you’ve discussed, you don’t know what
you’re talking about,” he said. (Ouch.)
You might assume that Jobs went
on the attack, got defensive, or maybe
even threw the man out of the room.
Instead he showed humility: “One of
the hardest things when you’re trying
to effect change is that people like this
gentleman are right in some areas,” he
exclaimed, adding: “I readily admit
there are many things in life that I don’t
have the faintest idea what I’m talking
about. So I apologize for that….We’ll find
the mistakes; we’ll fix them.” The crowd
erupted into applause.
How did the critic elicit such a calm
reaction? He kicked his comments off
with a compliment: “Mr. Jobs, you’re
a bright and influential man.” As the
audience laughed, Jobs replied, “Here
As this story shows, a dash of acclaim
can be a powerful antidote to a nar-
cissist’s insecurity. Not all displays of
respect are equally effective, though. It
doesn’t help to bury criticism between
two compliments: The feedback sand-
wich doesn’t taste as good as it looks.
Beginnings and ends are more likely to
stick in our memories than middles, and
narcissists are especially likely to ignore
the criticism altogether.
The key is to praise people in an area
different from the one in which you
hope to change their minds. If you’re
trying to get a narcissistic leader to
rethink a bad choice, it’s a mistake to
say you admire her decision-making
skills; you’re better off commending
her creativity. We all have multiple
identities, and when we feel secure
about one of our strengths, we become
more open to accepting our shortcom-
ings elsewhere. Psychologists find that
narcissists are less aggressive—and
less selfish—after being reminded that
they’re athletic or funny.
The audience member at the Apple
developer conference seemed to have
an intuitive appreciation of Jobs’s nar-
cissistic if…then profile. By commend-
ing his intelligence and importance, he
made it comfortable for Jobs to acknowl-
edge that he didn’t know everything
DISAGREE WITH THE DISAGREEABLE
A final impediment to persuasion is
disagreeableness, a trait often expressed
through argumentativeness. Disagree-
able people are determined to crush the
competition, and when you urge them to
reevaluate their strategy, that’s what you
become. However, if you’re willing to
stand up to them rather than back down,
you can sometimes gain the upper hand.
Because disagreeable people are
energized by conflict, they don’t always
want you to bend to their will right
away; they’re eager to duke it out. When
researchers studied how CEOs decided
which executives to nominate for board
seats at other companies, it turned out
that candidates who had a habit of argu-
ing before agreeing with their bosses were
more likely to get the nod. It showed that
they weren’t yes-men or yes-women but
were willing to fight for their ideas and
change their own minds. In the 1980s at
Apple, the leaders of the Mac team gave
an award to one person a year who had
the temerity to challenge Steve Jobs.
Eventually Jobs promoted each winner
to run a key division of the company.
In a recent study of ideas pitched by
junior people on a health care team, the
vast majority were initially rejected by
senior leaders. The 24% that made it to
implementation did so because their
proponents kept fighting for them by
refining and repeating pitches, acknowl-
edging and addressing weaknesses,
offering proof of concept, and enlisting
When Apple’s engineers brought up
the idea of making a phone, Jobs com-
piled a list of reasons why it wouldn’t
work. One was that smartphones were for
the “pocket-protector crowd.” His engi-
neers agreed but then challenged him:
If Apple made a phone, how beautiful
and elegant could it be? They also tapped
the competitive energy he felt toward
Microsoft. Wouldn’t there be a Windows
phone eventually? Jobs was intrigued
but he still wasn’t sold. Tony Fadell, the
inventor of the iPod and a cocreator of
the iPhone, told me that people “had
to work as a group, not simply in one
meeting but possibly over weeks, to get
him to change his mind or to see things
from another angle.” In the case of the
iPhone, this argument continued for
many months. Fadell and his engineers
chipped away at the resistance by build-
ing early prototypes in secret, showing
Jobs demos, and refining their designs.
Eventually, one big objection
remained: The cell phone carriers
controlled the networks, and they would
force Apple to make a subpar product.
Again the team appealed to Jobs’s
disagreeable tendencies: Could he get
the carriers to do it his way? “If we
had a powerful enough device,” Fadell
said, “he could get them to sign up to all
of these terms that would remove all of
those obstacles.” Jobs saw the potential
and ran with the idea, winning that bat-
tle. “Steve totally reset the relationship
with the carriers,” former Palm CEO and
Handspring cofounder Donna Dubinsky
told me. “I always felt that this was his
IN 1985, AFTER presiding over product
launches that were technical wonders
but sales busts, Steve Jobs was forced
out of his own company. In 2005 he
said, “It was awful-tasting medicine,
but I guess the patient needed it.” He
learned that no matter how powerful his
vision was, there were still times when
he had to rethink his convictions. When
he returned as CEO, it was not only
with newfound openness but also with
greater determination to hire people
ready to challenge him and help him
overcome his own worst instincts. That
set the stage for Apple’s resurgence.
Organizations need strong, visionary
executives like Jobs. But they also need
employees like Tony Fadell and Mike
Bell, suppliers like Wendell Weeks, and
stakeholders like the audience member
who stood up to complain at Apple’s
developer conference—people who
know how to effectively counteract
bosses and colleagues who tend toward
overconfidence, stubbornness, narcis-
sism, or disagreeableness. In a turbulent
world, success depends not just on
cognitive horsepower but also on cog-
nitive flexibility. When leaders lack the
wisdom to question their convictions,
followers need the courage to persuade
them to change their minds.
My Wish for you is Peace. And that comes about in a variety of ways. As I left the house today, I said goodbye to my two pups. (I didn’t say little—one is about 45 lbs, the other about 80). I was admiring how playful and cute they looked even though they both are over 1 year old, so one could consider them “adults”. What I saw in their faces that makes them so adorable, is childlike curiosity. They approach the world and life with the curiosity of a kid (or a dog). They look at things with amazement, they approach things with a joy that exudes from their bodies; wagging tails and a skip in their step. Our larger dog will even prance and play like a littler dog when she is really excited.
We all had that as kids. We all looked at the world with wonder and awe. Every day was a new experience. We looked at things as opportunities and didn’t have a pre-determined outcome for our adventures. But as time went on, we were told to act our age, we were told to get serious, we were told not to be silly, and we listened. But we shouldn’t have. The folks around you who are fun-loving, can find the fun and silly in their circumstances, they are the ones we are drawn to. There is a reason for that. They remind us of who we used to be.
My wish for you is peace. Peace that comes from childlike wonder, awe and curiosity at the world around you. Even if you have tedious tasks in your life, what can you find in them that is beautiful, fun, crazy, silly or brings joy? My wish for you is to be curious and find the joy in your world each day this week.
Feel free to share what that is. I’d love to hear.
We face choices every day. Some of them carry a fairly low risk of affecting our lives (e.g. picking the color of a shirt), and some of our decisions hold the potential to carry us to new heights of glory (e.g. whether to start a new business). Motivation is a result of our choices, too. There’s a reason we feel constantly under the weather in a job we only took to pay the bills. There’s a reason we find it hard to study for a test if getting a passing grade is all we care about. In order to feel properly motivated to do anything, we need a solid and justified reason for our actions.
Interior Motives Matter
Although we could have a complex and multifaceted conversation around motivation (or lack thereof), it really all boils down to intrinsic vs. extrinsic stimuli. It matters whether we do something because it’s our internal choice (intrinsic motivation) or because we are pressured to do it (extrinsic motivation). It’s a clash between I want to and I have to. In other words, cleaning your house because you feel good in a tidy and organized space is different from cleaning the house because you expect guests.
Needless to say, the easiest way out of the predicament would be to always choose what we feel intrinsically motivated to do. And we all know life rarely works this way.
The truth is, even when you believe in what you do and you feel in your heart you’re on the right path, you might still experience stress, burnout, or the lack of focus. Sometimes we get into a creative rut (seemingly) for no apparent reason, sometimes we feel too tired to work out, or we go through personal issues that block the free-flow of our love towards life.
Best way to handle these bumps in the road? There are several. Before we get to the star of the show in today’s article, which is the method we believe can transform your life despite its simplicity, here are a few tactics to snap you out of a dry spell:
1. Take a day off – give yourself time and room to breathe, disconnect, and clear your mind. We know it’s easier said than done, yet when the lack of motivation results from you being overwhelmed, another cup of coffee is hardly the solution (we know you know that, wink).
2. Take a walk in nature – move your body and mind outside. Fresh air, the greenery of a park, birds chirping – Mama Nature knows best how to heal us from a slump. Put your faith in the force that brought you to life in the first place.
3. Invest in meaningful relationships – people you surround yourself with can significantly raise the levels of your motivation. Social cooperation makes us more effective and more productive, yet it heavily depends on who you invite into your personal space.
4. Rewrite the narrative – have to vs. want to, can’t vs. won’t – the language we use really matters in defining the task. For example, as Mel Robbins, author of The 5 Second Rule, states, whenever you’re uneasy, tell yourself it is excitement rather than anxiety. This simple trick will stabilize your body and mind enough for you to focus on what you want to do (see what we did there?).
5. Kiss perfectionism goodbye – it’s an unbelievable inhibitor to anything you want to do and can easily turn your task into a never-ending story. Start before you are ready, we know it can be scary but done is always better than perfect.
Fall In Love With The Process
And now the moment we’ve been waiting for, the one technique that has the potential to transform extrinsic motivation into intrinsic desire is: The Do Something Principle.
How many times have you neglected a way out because it seemed too easy? As the saying goes, if it’s stupid but it works, it’s not stupid. Well, the Do Something Principle is so simple that it almost balances on the verge of silliness, to the point that we tend to overlook its incredible effectiveness.
Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, is the recent advocate for this principle that he defined in the aforementioned book. He writes that most of us take action when we feel motivated, when the reverse works much better because motivation is a three-part chain on a loop:
Inspiration → Motivation → Action → Inspiration → Motivation → Action → etc.
When you face a major life change, struggle to form a new habit, or start a new project, baby steps are the most efficient method in the long run. Therefore, the essence of this principle lies in doing something, taking the smallest menial step, and then harnessing the power of the generated momentum in order to motivate yourself to keep moving forward. To illustrate:
- To encourage yourself to train for a 5K, start running for five minutes a day.
- When you need to redesign your entire website, tackle the header first.
- If you want to write a book, type in 100 words into a document.
- Want to get physically stronger? Begin with 3 pushups a day.
- To switch to a healthier diet, add one vegetable to your dinner.
- To conquer social anxiety, try smiling at one stranger on the street.
- When you prepare for a job interview, focus on ironing your shirt.
Action creates motivation. Start simple and focus on the process rather than the goal. The smallest viable step towards results is very often enough to get the snowball rolling because it gives you a sense of accomplishment that fuels motivation. With the destination in sight, it’s still all about the journey.
The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter for small and midsize businesses. Fueled
by radically increasing rates of vaccination, the passage of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package
and rising revenues, The Vistage CEO Confidence Index jumped 14 points, reaching 102.4,
the highest level since September 2018.
Optimism increased in each of the six components that comprise the Index, but the primary
drivers for the increase were the improving expectations for revenues and profits, which rose
9 points and 6 points respectively in just 90 days. All signals indicate that pent-up demand
from consumers and the complete reopening of the economy will spark an economic surge in
2021 and beyond.
Ahead of the surge, CEOs are preparing their businesses to capitalize on the start of the next
growth cycle by increasing their fixed investments and headcount. 44% of CEOs plan on
increasing their fixed investments in the year ahead on top of the 47% that will maintain
current investment levels.
In CEO Projections 2021: Reigniting the Growth Engine we saw that technology was the top
investment, followed by hiring. CEOs learned the value of digital transformation and the
ever-increasing dependence and importance of technology during the course of the
pandemic. Increased headcount is the raw material to power growth.
Two-thirds of CEOs report plans to increase their headcount in the year ahead. This has
ignited the next wave of the talent wars. With 66% of SMBs expanding their workforce and
an additional 30% maintaining the size of their workforce, the demand for talent is extreme.
Although unemployment remains at 6.2%, experienced and talented employees in healthy
verticals are fully employed. Aggressive recruiting makes employee retention more critical
than ever; 70% of CEOs rated retention as very important for their talent management
Employees have options that become more appealing as the economic and job uncertainty
wanes. Losing a key employee can have a devastating effect when businesses are trying to
scale to rise to growth potential. Even everyday workers become essential when a
replacement will be hard to find, probably cost more, and take time to become productive.
Recruiting has replaced hiring. Attracting talent has never been more difficult or important as CEOs hustle to get ahead of the surge; 65% of CEOs reporting that attracting qualified
talent was very important to their talent management strategy.
While compensation matters, working for a company with a strong purpose, the opportunity for
development and advancement, and now work flexibility has risen to the top of employee’s
The work from home experience has changed the rules for both employers and employees.
Given a taste of the work-from-home lifestyle, many existing and potential employees will
look at remote working opportunities as a key consideration for staying with or joining a new
company. This puts the pending return to work and new hybrid workforce policy decisions
front and center for CEOs.
As we transition to the post-COVID workplace, CEOs are debating when to return to work
and then in what structure. Based on our survey, just 33% of CEOs plan to be fully on-site
through 2021. Some of those have no choice given the nature of their work, however, for
knowledge workers who can be and have been productive from home, this may become an
obstacle and a reason to answer the headhunter’s call.
A hybrid model is most common with 58% of CEOs reporting their workforce will offer a
balanced schedule between the office and remote working for the balance of 2021. Prior to
COVID-19, slightly over 2% of CEOs reported they had fully remote workforces. Now 7% will
remain fully remote with many planning to stay that way beyond 2021. Just 3% of CEOs are
uncertain at this time, but the clock is ticking.
By this time in 2022, the pandemic will be behind us and workplace flexibility policies will
need to be in place. The balance between CEOs wanting to return to the Monday-Friday, 9-5
workforce and employees’ desire for flexibility will test employee retention and challenge hiring plans.
The remote workforce has already tested new hire onboarding. The most influential period in
any employee’s work experience is their first two weeks. It’s when they are first welcomed
“behind the curtain” and have the chance to interact with leaders, managers, and co-workers
as an employee. Culture is learned through observation and interaction, something difficult
to realize with a remote workforce. Employee engagement and the fast path to productivity
are all triggered by the onboarding experience. 27% of CEOs reported that onboarding in a
remote work environment had a negative effect, potentially leading to slower engagement or rapid turnover of new hires. Only 10% of CEOs said remote working had a positive impact on
onboarding, mostly because of the attention paid to the process by fast thinking and
progressive HR leaders with dynamic onboarding practices.
The rapid rise in CEO confidence indicates that we have entered a time of transition. No
longer unsure about when or if the pandemic will pass, our confidence grows, and our anxiety
begins to diminish. Left behind is the uncertainty of an unending pandemic, the turmoil of an
election cycle unlike any other experienced in our lifetimes and passing of “Peak Covid” in
January when hospitalizations and deaths reached unimaginable heights.
Looking ahead we continue to see daily increases in the number of people vaccinated, more
businesses and schools reopening and an increasing confidence that the economy will soon
ignite sparking the next growth cycle. There will probably be some unforeseen setbacks, but
the light at the end of the tunnel keeps getting brighter and with that, CEOs will need to make
the right decisions to ensure their businesses can ride the momentum of the surge.