I'm a relatively inexperienced HR professional. I've been with my organization for 1 year and have a situation that I feel very positive about, but am unclear about my next steps.

Here is a little history.

Our CEO is a very good person with very poor people/ management skills. He uses "machine-gun" style questioning in meetings, believes everyone should just "grow-a-pair", has somewhat unreasonable expectations and doesn't transfer knowledge without belittling the person for having to ask.

He's been very approachable with me, because I don't respond with any emotion. I've been able to coach him on not talking about other employees with employees, no more yelling, doing PIPs, weekly 1 on 1's, and regular reviews. Things are getting much better. Everybody wants the company to succeed and grow, and they are willing to put the work in for us to get there...

But there is still a sense of overall fear. The employees are afraid that if they make a mistake they will get fired, even though there is NO evidence to support that. There has been only 2 people fired in the last 2 years; 1 for theft and 1 for poor performance; and both were allowed to work until they found another position.

My two main questions are:

  1. How do I get the CEO to understand that better training will prevent the slow transfer of knowledge and that softening his approach will get better results from the staff?

  2. How do I help the staff in getting past their fear response?

Thanks in advance for any assistance you may provide. Chris

  • 31
    Seriously you let someone who was stealing from you work until they got another job? May 20, 2013 at 19:58
  • 31
    Great CEO with horrible management style - Isn't that an oxymoron?
    – Jim G.
    May 20, 2013 at 20:17
  • 5
    @Jim G. I think he's good due to his product ideas, he's a true genius and is incredibly generous. It's his people/ management skills that are rough. He's been very open to coaching on this front from me as well. May 20, 2013 at 20:19
  • 2
    @ChrisBrink: He might be a talented guy and a valuable employee, but it doesn't sound like he's CEO material. A CEO is "The Cultural Epicenter". techcrunch.com/2013/04/27/…
    – Jim G.
    May 20, 2013 at 20:24
  • 3
    I think in this situation, knowing the size of the company and how things have gone in the last few years (ie did this company start small and slowly grow? start small and explode? etc) will greatly help you with getting more relevant and applicable advice. If there are 5 employees currently, 2 people getting fired in 2 years is a LOT - if there are 30, it's a lot less, etc.
    – enderland
    May 21, 2013 at 0:10

2 Answers 2


Everybody including the CEO needs to understand that he is not a manager, doesn't want to be a manager and shouldn't be wasting his time managing. The CEO should be a leader (i.e. the person who decides what to do and not how to do it.). It's not to make the CEO the king or to excuse the behavior, but to realize leadership and direction is a rare commodity in most companies. Dont' waste it. Everyone has their roles to play. Let people do what they're good at.

Relative to the size of the company limit the levels of employees the CEO meets with. The level of fear is probably a good indication of those to exclude. The CEO has a lot on his/her mind and can't be expected to feel the same sense of urgency and level of detail on all subjects. Imagine you're trying to negotiate a benefits package for your company, but someone wants to complain about the coffee machine and multiply that by 100 and you have a day in the life of a CEO.

Discourage people from asking the CEO questions. If he can answer it in 30 seconds but it takes you 30 minutes to find the answer elsewhere, go find it elsewhere. Let everyone know it's not about their time it's about the CEO's time and it needs to be rationed. Imagine needing the CEO for the most important question only to wait in line with the 10 other people who are going to ask such inane questions.

If there is confusion over what the CEO meant by a particular statement or any other type of clarification, suggest they bring it to you or someone else close to the CEO and work out some of the details and then report back to everyone.

Arrange more casual times for the CEO to be around with other people that isn't just business. Maybe a monthly lunch or something. I heard one CEO mention that no one ever came into his office with good news. It can wear on a person. Make people aware of it.

  • JeffO, do you suggest locking the CEO out of feedback from the employees? Insulating him? This can backfire on the company. Even casual monthly lunches are no replacement for being in the loop... May 20, 2013 at 21:09
  • @Jeff: Thanks those are a lot of good strategies. I've already got him to put a development manager in place and we are looking for a Support/ Project manager now. So, then he would only be managing the exec. team. May 20, 2013 at 21:16
  • @Jeff: Sorry, I'd vote for your answer, but I don't have enough reputation yet...(something I'd never thought I'd say...grin) May 20, 2013 at 21:18
  • 1
    @DeerHunter - This is why it is so important to have good managers. Questions to the CEO need to be well thought out. There just isn't enough time. Even a company with 100 employees, can the CEO afford to answer one question a week from everybody?
    – user8365
    May 20, 2013 at 21:42
  • 3
    @DeerHunter - It's the company in transition that has to make the shift from a micro-managing owner to a CEO. Everyone brings every little thing for the boss's approval and doesn't know how to behave without it. I've been at all sizes of companies and industries and everyone thinks the CEO is a hard case only to find out they didn't do their homework before the meetings and got called out on it. This boss is probably under a lot of stress.
    – user8365
    May 20, 2013 at 22:30

The company should replace the CEO.

That can simply mean to hire a new CEO to replace him, if he is an employee CEO.

Except he is an owner CEO, as common in small companies. It is often the case that the owner or founder of the company "naturally" became CEO when the company was founded.

That makes it more complicated, but not fundamentally different.

An owner CEO has two separate roles, independent from each other:
As the owner, he is leading the company on a strategic level to ensure it's success.
As the CEO, he is doing the executive work on the top level. He cares about the strategy, and what needs to be done to support it. He gets these things done, by doing them or delegating them.

There is nothing preventing the owner CEO to delegate the CEO work to an employee. For him as the owner, it is very much in his own interest to have a good CEO. And if he happens to be not a good CEO, it can be very useful for the success of the company, on the level of reaching strategic goals, on the level of productivity and for building and maintaining a healthy office culture.

The case described in the question is, according to comments, about an owner CEO. The whole problem is about what to do about the difficulties of his CEO work. Whether he is interested to hire an external CEO will depend to a large extent of whether he actually likes the work he is doing. He may see that he's somewhat ineffective, but still enjoy his job. On the other hand, he may be unhappy or frustrated from seeing he is just not good in doing what he does.

The owner could of course stay working where he is, even in close contact with a new CEO. Apart from micromanaging his CEO, he can choose his level of involvement: Vor example, the owner may hire new developers personally, but completely keep out of hiring or replacing office staff. He actually may not even know or care about their number.

Hiring an external CEO can be expensive, but it can increase revenue by potentially much more. It's a question of strategy for the owner.

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