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Apr 9, 2019

COOs: Why, When and How to Tell Your CEO to Work Less

If you are the COO in a company whose CEO is a hard-charging workaholic, there may be times when you believe your CEO should work less.

Sometimes your CEO needs to spend more energy ON the business rather than IN it. In other words, he/she needs to spend time strategizing and making plans rather than being immersed in day-to-day details. After all, you, the COO, were hired to make sure the business runs smoothly. You enjoy the nuts and bolts of it all, and your employees respect your attention to their jobs and your willingness to go to bat for them.

Consider why your CEO is burning the midnight oil at the office. Is he/she working so hard temporarily for a specific client deadline? Or, is it due to a more systemic issue, for example, slow growth, where she / he is used to stepping in to “fix” the problem?

You know your CEO’s time is limited, but the fact that he/she is delving into matters that are within the COO’s job description is a sign that this individual may be overtaxing him or herself and may not realize it.

When you notice this behavior from your CEO, it is time to address it.

How you conduct the conversation is vital:

  • Avoid a power struggle
  • Empathize

These are useful methods to encourage your boss to work less. First of all, you don’t want to be seen as usurping power: He/she is your boss, after all. Treat the CEO with respect and sidestep any power issues. Try to empathize with your CEO and say that you have noticed the many hours at the office.

Do You Focus on Your Boss’ Schedule?

According to The Wall Street Journal, some bosses are taken aback when they find that their staff has been focusing on their schedules. The WSJ cited this example:

“Betty Enyonam Kumahor often works 14-hour days, emailing and calling contacts around the world. "My teams started tracking how many hours they thought I slept each night, based on my email 'send' times," says Ms. Kumahor, a regional managing director in Atlanta for ThoughtWorks, a software development company. "They asked me jokingly, 'Do you ever sleep?' "She assured employees she would stop sending so many late-night and early-morning emails so that they didn't have to extend their hours to respond.”

Sometimes, if you mention your boss’ hectic schedule and question whether they expect you to respond immediately, that can alert them that they are working too hard. Some executives adhere to a strict work-life balance and do not appreciate phone calls from their CEO on the weekends. If this is the case with you, it may be hard to enforce this rule, but it will ultimately benefit both the CEO and yourself.

Communication is Key

It is critical that you maintain a good relationship with your CEO, and communication is vital. You might remind your CEO that it has been 18 months since they took a family vacation or ask if he/she wants to tack on a few extra days of R&R on his next business trip to San Francisco.

Again, conveying empathy is the secret. Your boss won’t imagine that you want him/her out of the office for a few extra days so you can stage a company coup. When you offer advice in a supportive way, your CEO will know that you have his/her best interests at heart.

You might even offer to take a few things off your CEOs plate. Letting your boss know: “I will deal with the conflict between Finance and Accounting this week. I know what the hidden problems are.”

On CNN.com, Kathryn Vasel noted that a workaholic boss often expects the same behavior from others. “Avoid being aggressive — that can create more problems for you, advised Bryan Robinson, author of "#Chill: Turn Off Your Job and Turn on Your Life."

Robinson suggested: Start the conversation with your boss with something positive, then bring up the issue of your being overworked with specific recent examples, and then end on another positive note.

"Workaholics don't see the water they are swimming in and don't realize it's taking a toll on people and themselves," Robinson said. "They are totally focused on the task and getting it done."

Use the CEO's Work-Life Balance Issues as a Learning Tool for the Entire Company

If your boss becomes defensive when you suggest that he/she is working too much, try to take the sting out of it by saying that it’s important that he/she set an example for the staff.

Remind your CEO of how vital it is to have a work-life balance. Let your visionary leader know that when he/she is well-rested after a few vacation days, he/she can invigorate the entire team. Tell your CEO how much you are concerned about his/her health and welfare.

Above all, use the situation of advising your boss that he/she is working too much as a learning opportunity. You will find out if your CEO is thick-skinned, or if he/she becomes sensitive, maybe he/she is insecure about the company’s progress and feels the only way to ensure its success is to continue to burn the midnight oil. Let your CEO reveal any underlying concerns and help him/her address them.

If you are a COO who is at your position for the long haul, then being protective of your CEO’s health and mental attitude is a credit to your dedication to the company. The two of you are a partnership, and you will work best together when each of you can speak your mind, air differences, and move forward harmoniously.

Then, you may find that your CEO does not feel that he/she has to work so hard after all!

 You May Also Like:
  1. Five Tips for COOs on Working With Impulsive CEOs
  2. The Importance of Providing Transparent Feedback as a COO
  3. How to Integrate New Leadership Members Into Your Organization
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