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  • Writer's pictureJoel T. Sanders

Candid Conversations With and Without the CEO in the Room

Yesterday I published an article on the psychology of sunk costs, and how entrepreneurs are particularly susceptible to throwing good money after bad on losing propositions and people.

Coincidentally, one of my CEO clients wasn't able to make our weekly Leadership Meeting, leaving me, the Marketing Director and CTO to discuss the status of a new product that's under development—and behind schedule.

For months, I've been asking the hard questions on this project, which was supposed to ship in June and is still in an early prototype phase in July, 2020.

Without the CEO present, the CTO shared specific difficulties he's facing in developing the product, noting, "He (the CEO) doesn't appreciate how difficult it is going to be to build this," and, "it's become more and more clear to me why this product doesn't already exist on the market. It's a challenging product to build."

Before taking on a client, we insist on a team adopting the core value and behavior of speaking with candor, i.e., "say what you really think," or "speak the truth, as you understand it." Because the truth, even when it's difficult—especially when it's difficult—points the way forward.

As my meeting yesterday revealed, candor is easier said than done (irony noted!), and it's probably most difficult for some of the best people, i.e, "A" players.

"A" players know how difficult it is to start and grow a company from scratch. They usually have a great deal of admiration for their CEO bosses. They sincerely believe that they will find answers to the challenges they're facing, and they want to "protect" their bosses from a potential cause of stress, especially on a project that's cost so much in time and money.

One way of dealing with this could be to schedule more leadership meetings with the CEO absent. Encourage the team to have a candid conversation on the difficulties they're facing without the eternal optimist in the room.

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