CEOs Who Are Pleasers Should Spend More Time With Customers

I woke up this morning thinking about people who have a desire to please. This is not my personality type, but I encounter it regularly. Amy often describes herself as an “approval-seeking people pleaser” and I’ve learned a lot from my 30 years of interacting with her.

With CEOs I often notice the pleaser personality in the context of employees. The pleaser wants everyone around him to be happy. This creates a positive reinforcement dynamic for the CEO – if everyone is happy, things must be good. If employees aren’t happy for any reason, that becomes a priority for the CEO to solve.

This often happens independent of the situation. The CEO is not focused on the root cause of what is going on, but rather the specific activity that is causing an employee to be unhappy, especially in the context of the CEO or another employee. Often, the source of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, or frustration is exogenous to the CEO and the company.

As I was rolling this around in my early morning brain, the thought occurred to me that if you are a CEO and a people pleaser, you should spend more time with your customers.

It’s not that employees shouldn’t be happy. That’s a cultural norm that can be a great goal. But it should be an embedded cultural norm, not the sole responsibility of the CEO. So, the CEO who is a people pleaser runs the risk of misallocating her time to ensuring employee happiness.

There are a plenty of CEOs who spend a lot of time with customers, but I’ve never met a CEO who spent too much time with her customers. Early stage CEOs often do this effectively but as the company grows, the time spent with customers as a percentage of overall time goes down. There are plenty of rational reasons for this, but it ends up in the same place – the CEO steadily spends a lower percentage of time with customers.

If you are naturally a pleaser, spend more time with your customers in 2017. Re-energize yourself by getting in the feedback loop with the users of your product. While they’ll have plenty of negative and critical feedback, you can then filter what matters, solve for it, and stay in a feedback loop that generates positive feedback as you make your customers happier, solving for your pleaser needs.

If you think your customers are uniformly happy, you are deluding yourself. If your employees are happy but your customers are unhappy, you are screwed as a business. And, if you are a CEO who is naturally a people pleaser and you are in this situation (happy employees, unhappy customers) you are likely destroying your business.

You are not going to please all of your employees. That’s not your job as CEO.  Instead, channel your need to please to spending time with customers.

Also published on Medium.