Considering what they make, it's hard to feel entirely sorry for executives, but now that I've interviewed 10 of them for this Leadership Agenda series, I do find that there are tough parts to their jobs. Chief among them, I think, is loneliness. They are around people all the time, but the people they are near physically -- fellow denizens on executive row in their companies, customers, industries colleagues, competitors, are not people they can turn to for advice or comfort.
Many executives understand this -- and it's interesting to see what they do to cope.
Some of them belong to organizations -- there are networks of executives who form small groups that meet regularly. These are peers who can discuss business problems with each other that they can't discuss with people in their own companies. Some of them build friendships through groups like Greater Philadelphia Senior Executive Group, GPSEG, a group dedicated to networking and career building on the executive level. (It also helps senior executives who have been booted find a new life).
On Wednesday, Lars Bjork, chief executive of Qlik Technologies Inc., will be the speaker at GPSEG's Fall Regional Business Outlook event. (Click here to sign up.) When I interviewed him for the Leadership Agenda interview in Monday's Inquirer, I asked him how he handles that isolation at the top.
"I have a personal coach in Sweden and have had one on and off for several years," he told me. "I’ve been always been open to taking input.
"When I moved into this role in 2007 I’d never been CEO before. I had never taken a company public. This is the first Swede that ever took a company public in the U.S. There isn’t a vast majority of experience to rely on and I never thought I would be CEO of this company," he said.
I asked Bjork what he learned from the coach.
"A lot of things around how you view the situation," he said, "Mostly, he doesn’t give me advice. He lets me talk and he asks me questions so I come to the realization myself. The important thing I’ve done that’s a benefit – and he would be the first to say it – you are coachable, you are open to take advice.
"There is a risk when you become an executive, that you think you are Mr. Know it All and [you tell yourself], `I don’t need to listen to anyone. I know this,'" Bjork said. "I’m the opposite. Even if I hear something that I already know, great, then I get it confirmed."