It happens. Especially in smaller companies, where the CEO tends to be, or can be, more involved in the day-to-day.
When people have an agenda, or an idea they want to pursue… or perhaps they don’t like the direction the team is going, they can happen upon the CEO.
I’ve seen it too many times. The CEO is a friendly and engaged person. They care about what’s going on in the business, but they also care about empowering their employees.
So the person who’s not getting their way finds themselves in a position where they have a seemingly innocent conversation with the CEO about a particular project.
The CEO doesn’t have the details of the project because they’re dealing with many more high level issues and initiatives. So the employee who goes to the CEO is in control of the conversation. They’re free to give the CEO just the right information to make their case.
The employee can leave out certain bits of information or craft the story just the way they want it to make it sound like what they’re suggesting is perfectly reasonable, if not flat out obvious.
They state their case, and then the CEO says something like, “why aren’t we doing that?” Or, “that sounds like a good idea.”
And there it is. Tacit approval.
Now the employee has gotten what they need to go to the team and tell them the CEO said we’re to do it this way. “Just spoke to the CEO. They said we should do try this.”
They don’t even have to admit that they advocated the idea to the CEO. They get to claim it was the CEO’s idea.
And suddenly, without having any idea, the CEO has just fundamentally changed the nature of a project or empowered the one member who wasn’t pulling their weight or was holding everything up.
CEO’s should know better.
A CEO should steer clear of giving any feedback that can be interpreted as direction. Not until they’ve completely familiarized themselves with the project and spoken to multiple sources involved in it.
Weaponizing a CEO, or any executive team member, can be quite easy. It’s up to the CEO or executive to recognize what’s happening and refuse to let it happen. Either stay out of it by not giving any real or implied blessing, or get involved and take an active role.