Dear CEO,

As we head toward the middle of the 21st century, I write this letter to shed some light on some blind spots within your company, that may ultimately prevent a successful transition towards a brighter future. While the foundation of your company may appear in safe standing, the reality is that you could be slow dancing in a burning room with your employees and the wider community severely affected. This letter is intended to inform, and hopefully disrupt, the status quo of your organization with a few key points:

1. The Tone You Set is the Culture You Create

Warren Buffett said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” Keep an eye on your culture and your values. Not the company’s values — yours. Not because you own the company (you might), but because the moment you signed on as the captain of that ship, you become responsible for the tone and culture.

Be careful with your people. If your culture is chaotic, the trickle-down effect to those under you can be harsh, and you will become stuck with their attitudes. If this elicits from you an attitude of: “If they’re not happy, then there’s the door” then I’d suggest reframing the situation. The key lesson in Remember the Titans was “Attitude reflects leadership, captain.” Consider a more empathetic approach, because it’s highly likely that employees never signed up to be first responders.

The World Economic Forum published an article by Dr. Travis Bradberry, president of TalentSmart and coauthor of Emotional Intelligence 2.0. In this July 2019 article, he states, “For the titles of director and above, scores descend faster than a snowboarder on a black diamond. CEOs, on average, have the lowest EQ scores in the workplace.” 

I would imagine it is both isolating and discouraging to learn this, even for the most comfortable and closed-off CEO. However, you are far from alone. 

After some self-examination, though, realizing that your approval rating is in direct correlation with your emotional intelligence score might create pause for strategic reconsideration. Frederic Laloux of Thinkers50 said, “When organizations are built not on implicit mechanisms of fear but on structures and practices that breed trust and responsibility, extraordinary and unexpected things start to happen.”

2. Communication is a Heads-up Profession (and Practice)

While technology and automation are undeniably the future, it’s also about human connection. If the culture and values mentioned above, caused this slow dancing, burning room scenario to appear, then adopting technology and automation to mask the fact, will not achieve much. Introducing a healthy level of automation and technology into your company while still keeping face-to-face interactions with employees is vital for your organizational structure.

Avoid a self-devised “escape route” when communicating with employees, and you’ll be amazed at how much respect you get — when your communication shifts from disengagement to engagement. Bottom line: Engage using technology and automation with your external audiences (customers), and use some personal engagement when necessary. Engage in face-to-face interactions with your internal audiences (employees) and use technology and automation when appropriate. 

3. Change the Mental Health Narrative 

Stop criminalizing mental health days (currently masked as “personal” days). The average citizen, through to the president of a country, sometimes needs a personal day. It shouldn’t require being doubled over with influenza to ask for one. Engaged employees are happy employees and vice versa. Healthy workplaces and communities start with the right work/life balance. Even yoga in the workplace has become a trend. Still, it cannot refuel the mind and body the same way that hiring another person can — to help balance your mounting workload.

As the CEO, you play a pivotal role in demonstrating how mental health is perceived within your company, and ensuring that adequate support exists. Lastly, remember the power of storytelling; your transformation can create far-reaching impact. Iron sharpens iron, and nothing beats mentorship. Whether mentoring a fellow CEO or someone directly under you, pass along your sage advice. Remember that you are not alone.