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Why Every CEO Needs a Sparring Partner

Axial | August 4, 2016 Expert

CEOs and business owners are faced with big decisions every day. From product development to pricing strategy to financing decisions, you’re forced to trust your judgment and make the call, often on a short timeline. Should I hire a new VP of sales? Is this offer to buy my company legitimate? Can I trust my employees with my plans to sell? This can lead to agonizing periods of self-doubt followed by intense external and internal scrutiny.

Making big decisions on your own can feel necessary at some points in time. But running your business in an echo chamber isn’t good for anyone — least of all your company. To succeed, it’s crucial to seek out and take advantage of an outside perspective.

Here are four ways to find a sparring partner and get some perspective on the most important decisions for your business.

1. Establish a board of advisors.

A board of advisors can help provide perspective on what’s most important when it comes to running and growing your business. A wide variety of folks can make great advisors — this might include experienced operators, your savviest customers, or even an executive at a larger company in your industry.

2. Get advice from your team.

Senior executives who report directly to you can provide good advice — but you probably hear from them already. A treasure trove of insight into the market and your company itself can be found deeper within your organization. Junior employees have their ear to the ground and more channels through which to receive feedback from customers, fellow employees, and partners. This is particularly true for your sales and marketing team, whose jobs require a deep understanding of the market and your competition.

Make a point to pick your team’s brains on a regular basis, as well as set up a mechanism for collecting anonymous feedback from those employees who might be less willing to share face-to-face. Engaging and empowering your team members will hopefully also result in increased productivity across the organization.

3. Find a mentor or coach.

Why is it that we’re OK with getting help when we’re kids — whether with sports, a musical instrument, or a tough math test — but have a hard time turning to experts as adults?

As CEO coach Kirk Dando of Dando Advisors notes, “Leaders need to surround themselves with people who can provide different perspectives and advice. We all have blind spots… The key is to have people you can pick up the phone when you need some help — or just someone to listen to you.”

Don’t be ashamed and think that seeking help is a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s the opposite.

4. Learn from other CEOs.

Peer CEO networks like Vistage can provide essential guidance and empathy from others who know the ropes. If you’re not ready to join a formal organization, take time to connect with business leaders in other ways — reach out to CEOs via LinkedIn or other online platforms, attend conferences and events, and reach out to local business owners going through similar struggles. The advice of even one peer or mentor can help ensure that you make the best decisions possible for the future of your business.

Axial is the deal network for the middle market.

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