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How to become ànd stay the trusted advisor of your CEO

In the official organization chart, you can read who is where in the hierarchy. But in reality there is always an informal hierarchy. There are a few people closer to the CEO than others. The CEO speaks informally with them to discuss decisions in advance. These are the conversations that happen, for instance, in the early evening or during the commute....out of sight for most people in the organization.

In many companies, people sometimes speak sarcastically about their colleagues who are close to the CEO. But for a CEO it is essential to surround herself with a few trusted advisors. They help her to align the direction the company is going in. They make sure the CEO does not operate in isolation.

If the CEO is aware of the dynamics in the organization, she seeks consultation with a small group op people, both internally and externally. If this process takes place in an effective way, the internal colleagues follow the unwritten rules that we share hereunder.
  1. They are reliable. They do not talk negatively behind the CEO’s back. They talk with the CEO, rather than about her.

  2. They have strong verbal communication skills and help the CEO to see it in front of her. Where are the opportunities?

  3. They place themselves in the shoes of their CEO. They think for the whole company. Not only from their own silo.

  4. They think strategically and don’t get lost in all the details. Their advice often has a direct link to increase sales, reduce costs or they make a link to reducing risks.

  5. They are able to advise the CEO in a constructive way. They tell her the things she needs to hear, rather than just what she wants to hear. That last one is not needed anyway, because that happens all too often when you’re the CEO.

  6. They are willing to accept the personal risks of their behavior and act with an independent spirit.

  7. They are practical and approach the CEO with ideas. They also give the CEO practical ways to implement their advice.

The CFO (chief financial officer) and the CHRO (chief human resources officer) often have a close relationship with the CEO in the hierarchy, but they are not necessarily considered trusted advisors. For the other members of the management team or the people from the wider organization, their impact comes down to the effectiveness of their behavior. How capable are they to act as a trusted advisor to the CEO?

You can never force yourself into the position of trusted advisor; it must be earned and granted to you by the CEO.

Hope this inspires

Paul Donkers

A good book that specifically dives deeper into this topic is called: Why should the boss listen to you? From James Lukazewski. A review of this book can be found on our literature page here.

Each year we coach many entrepreneurs/CEO's and their direct reports to help them increase their impact. If you want to continue the conversation with us, please let us know via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

By Paul Donkers

"my purpose is to help improve strategy execution, to create high performing teams and coach for effective business leaders"

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