Lonely at the top

Over the years, organizational development consultant Michael J. Kitson said, he has come to identify about a half dozen issues that really concern top executives, especially chief executives and company presidents. Yes, they'll hire him for some ostensible assignment, but as the conversation develops, the assignment will turn into dealing with one of these issues.

The issues are fascinating and center around the ability to get accurate information. Chief executives, Kitson said, worry about their isolation at the top. They are petrified that they won't get accurate information from their underlings, particularly their direct reports. They worry that their direct reports will tell them only what they think their boss wants to hear. They worry that their direct reports, in an effort to increase their territory and power within the company, will slant the information in a way that can hurt the company as a whole. And by the way, they always need to keep a sharp eye on the direct reports, figuring that at least one of them is gunning for the job of chief executive.

What do executives do to cope? They turn to others in their industry or at their country clubs for advice and support. They may bring in a consultant simply to have someone to lean on who is outside the corporate structure. This is particularly important, Kitson said, when companies are laying off people and the executives feel responsibility, both for the people and for the company.  Kitson, a former Sun Oil Co. executive, operates his consulting business in Malvern.