Despite all of their success and years of experience, many CEOs still fail once they’re at the top.Why? They’re victims of flattery.
In a study that included more than 400 CEOs and 3000 high-level managers, researchers Ithai Stern of Northwestern and James Westphal of the University of Michigan found that the more a CEO was complimented, the higher their opinion of their own decisions and strategic abilities become.
They also conducted in-depth interviews, which produced revealing exchanges like this from a manager:
“I just flat out told him [a CEO], ‘You’ve got great judgment when it comes to strategy.’ I could tell he appreciated it.”
The researchers termed this feedback loop of compliments and ego “The Icarus Paradox”, meaning the higher someone rises on the corporate ladder, the more they get flattered.
That itself doesn’t hurt performance; it becomes a problem when they reinforce a CEOs ego to the point that they won’t admit their current strategy isn’t working.
Author Ithai Stern’s takeaway for CEOs is to “get advice from people who do not depend on you.”
When someone’s dependent on you for employment or career advancement, they’re much less likely to tell you hard truths.
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