Question: How can the management team gauge whether CEO desires feedback or execution?

We are 200 people company, with a unique problem during our management reviews.

We have a really hard time understanding wether the CEO has already made up his mind on a topic, and expects us to "carry out the orders." In which case, we would not spend our time discussing alternatives.

Or whether, the topic is open to feedback, so every executive can bring his unique perspective.

On one hand, we do not wish to waste our time if the decision is already made. On the other hand, most of us usually do have an opinion on an agenda item, and are eager to contribute to the decision making process.

Thanks in advance for your advice.

5 Expert Insights


What you describe is a symptom of a much deeper and more serious problem: a lack of safety and trust within the executive leadership team that hobbles the entire organization.  The stress of uncertain expectations creates confusion and indecisiveness.  Un-negotiated expectations are at the core of most organizational dysfunction.

The era of the all powerful, all wise CEO being well-served by unquestioning executives disappeared sometime in the last century.  There is a high probability that your CEO knows he needs everyone’s perspective in developing the best approach to the Adaptive Problems your team faces, BUT is fearful of appearing weak or incompetent if he asks for your insights.

You will be doing yourself, the CEO and the entire organization a service by having a conversation with the CEO on how to best focus the collective wisdom of the executive team on the challenging problems you face.  Explore ways of expanding engagement and ownership of decisions within the executive team.

The most effective executive leadership teams operate in an environmental ecosystem where it is safe for anyone, especially the CEO, to say “I don’t know.  What do you think?”  Vulnerability fuels creativity and innovation.

I agree with Bill Shirley. The only thing I want to add is to create the conditions of trust, respect and collaboration is a long process. The sooner they start the better. They might need outside help. This is what I did when I started the same process while the president of a company.

I'm going with "ask," too. Smart, busy, people spend a lot of time thinking through issues and when they then talk about them with others, they don't always provide sufficient context to know where they're coming from in what they're saying. So is your CEO delegating? Wanting to brainstorm? Looking for validation? Telling you what's already been decided? If you're not 100% sure, It's incumbent on you to find out sooner rather than later.

As others have said here ... the short and direct answer is simply to ask.  Thinking 'coach-like' there is an approach to communicating that can really clarify the expectation and as a result ... avoid frustration for many.  Take less than a minute at the start of a topic discussion and ask these questions.  Are you looking for me to be a listener, a discussion participant or a solution provider?  The listener does just that ... we listen and our only comments pertaining to our desire to clarify what has been said so that we know we understand what is intended.  The discussion partner participates in a conversation on the topic ... everything short of saying what should be done about it.   The solution provider offers ideas pertaining what could be done to resolve or proceed on any given matter being discussed.

Asking this of the CEO, in your situation, allows them to clarify what they need from you.  And that is what you provide.  Even if you would like a different role at least you minimize frustration because you know what is needed on this particular discussion.

What I am curious about is what the CEO and perhaps the organization is missing because they don't invite your input or ideas?  The ultimate solution can be achieved by bringing the team together and having the team design how to enhance their effectiveness and the overall contribution to the company's success.  Of course this must involve the CEO as well.