54% of CEOs Say Top Spot is More Complex than Expected, Feel Isolated from Staff

A new survey from RHR International has insights into the current pysche of the public company CEO; 50% of CEOs feel isolated and 50% feel increased pressure to perform well financially in a short period of time. Are the external pressures on CEOs leading them to make the best long-term decisions?

January 12 2012 by JP Donlon


A new survey from RHR International reveals that over half of CEOs (54 %) feel the job was not what they originally expected and that half feel isolated in their role. First-time CEOs are particularly susceptible to this isolation, with nearly 70% saying it negatively affects their performance.  Although the study did not link complexity and isolation, it isn’t hard to surmise why they may be linked—and why it may explain rapid turnover particularly in financial services and technology.

Consider the departure of Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and HP’s Leo Apotheker.  Neither could get their respective organizations motivated to achieve a turnaround. Hp executive chairman Ray Lane  blamed Apotheker’s sense of unreal financial projections and “botched communications” with senior management and Wall Street.  Both were isolated from reality, and no doubt the pace of technological change was gaining on them.  To some degree isolation is part of the job. A CEO can share only so much with his colleagues before he is open to favoritism or is ill-advised by those who may have their own agendas.

The board may be an excellent sounding forum but here again a CEO must be prudent. By admitting doubts, does he leave himself vulnerable to board members who expect him to have all the answers? It’s a tricky position that can isolate the best managers.

Interestingly the RHR International study found that of those who report this feeling, 61 percent believe isolation hinders their performance, and that first-time CEOs are particularly susceptible to this isolation with nearly 70 % saying it negatively affects their performance.

Not mentioned in the study is whether or not CEOs seek the company of their peers to combat this. If a leader can’t share sensitive stuff with, say, a lead director or a non executive chairman, the best advice can come from a fellow CEO from a different industry or sector to avoid conflicts. Chances are he or she is facing his own demons and because he has no connection to your company can give honest opinions.

Read: CEOs Feel Job Jitters
Read: CEO Snapshot Survey January 2012