What CEOs are afraid of

While few executives talk about them, deep and uncontrolled private fears can result in behaviours that undermine how they and their colleagues set and execute company strategy.

This Harvard Business Review study focuses on the fear experienced by executives and how it impacts their career and relationships at work.

Key findings:

  • the top five fears are:
    • being found to be incompetent
    • underachieving
    • appearing too vulnerable
    • being politically attacked by colleagues
    • appearing foolish
  • the fear of underachieving diminishes confidence and undermines relationships with other executives
  • about 60 per cent said those first three fears affected behaviours on their executive team, although 95 per cent said that executive team members had a very limited view of their own fears
  • the five top fears resulted in dysfunctional behaviours such as:
    • a lack of honest conversations
    • too much political game playing
    • silo thinking
    • lack of ownership and follow-through
    • tolerating bad behaviours
  • asked to think about the fallout from those dysfunctional behaviours, those mentioned most frequently were:
    • poor decision-making
    • focusing on survival rather than growth
    • inducing bad behaviour at the next level down
    • failing to act unless there’s a crisis