A most important CEO skill

As companies grow, they inevitably start seeing some employee turnover. If the company’s culture is entrepreneurial, some employees will go and start their own companies. If it’s rigid, some will leave for a more flexible startup. If it’s chaotic, some will leave for corporates with a clearly defined structure. It’s inevitable and rather than trying to fight it, CEOs should focus on always having alternatives. This is easier said than done. 

A good friend of mine is one of Romania’s most prolific entrepreneurs. He started the first advertising agency in the country, one of the first TV channels, a number of radio channels and his net worth is in the hundreds of millions of euros. We were speaking about his current ventures a few weeks ago and he mentioned he’s currently involved in over 30 different projects. I found that bewildering and was curious to understand what his involvement is with all these projects. As it turns out “all I do these days is connect people. My network is the single most important asset I have” were his words. 

Great CEOs, investors and executives have an amazing, almost native ability to build and nurture relationships. Real relationships, not acquaintances that you bump into at conferences and say hello. I believe 100 quality, genuine relationships are more valuable than 1000 connections on LinkedIn. That’s difficult to create and maintain, because as a CEO you always have other priorities and never have enough time. 

Personally, I only realised how important nurturing relationships is when I had a month to hire a replacement for a key employee and no idea where to start. As a rule of thumb, I think CEOs should nurture two-three close relationships with potential employees for each key position they have in their company (read: direct reports). It’s really difficult but I believe it pays enormous dividends once you’ve done it. 

I’ve built a very simple system that helps me keep the relationships that I care about active: a spreadsheet. It contains the name, industry, location and the last time I’ve seen a particular person. When I notice that I haven’t seen someone for more than two months, I reach out and invite them for a catch-up. I currently have 60 people on this highly curated list and could probably actively nurture up to 150 people without it affecting any of my other activities. I periodically review this list and either add or remove people. It works like a charm and if you’re serious about being as successful as my friend mentioned above, you should start doing this now. 

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