Being the CEO can be lonely. When you need some moral support, some encouragement, someone to lean on, to back you up, to challenge you, to simply tell you that you’re going okay, you’re doing a good job, to keep it up, who do you turn to?

When you’re the CEO, where is your support structure?

While you are capable and high-performing, intelligent and experienced, there are still going to be some things that you could use a little bit of help with. Things that make it easier, faster, smoother. Someone to check your thinking, to ask you questions, to challenge your thinking and stretch you, or sometimes someone to simply prop you up.

So who do you turn to?

It can’t really be your executive team or your leadership team, because they are looking to you for leadership.

It may not be your board, because they expect great things from you and you probably do not want to be seen as vulnerable, not coping, not having the answer. 

‘No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.’ ~ John Donne

So who do you turn to?

Who is in your support system?

Research by anthropologist Robin Dunbar led to the creation of Dunbar’s numbers. This theory provides insight into how groups of humans work best. How they thrive together. It begins with the intimate circle, a group of about five people who provide each of us with that close support. This might include people like a life partner, best friend, parent or close sibling.

In terms of your leadership though, it is the next group, the group of 15, who can be your personal support system. A personal board of directors, if you like. People who want to see you succeed, are invested in you and the relationship they have with you and will be a great resource because they know that you would reciprocate for them.

So who are some of these people?

Who are the people that would make up your group of 15?

The people you can turn to when you need help, support, encouragement, someone to celebrate with, someone to think with, a sounding board.

Who are those people for you? 

As you can see, these people can come from all facets of your work and life and provide real value in terms of the support they can offer you. Equally, of course, there is a reasonable expectation you would support them in return, which no doubt you would be happy to do if they are the right people.

Who might you consider to be part of your circle of 15?

My challenge to you is to check in with yourself and really determine how many people you have actively in your Dunbar group of 15. You may have a few, you might have seven or eight, you may have closer to 15.

Now I want you to question even further.

  • How actively are you investing in each relationship?
  • Would these people know they are part of your support structure and that you are in theirs?


Something to think about.

The important thing here is you need to invest in these relationships so when the time comes for you to make a withdrawal from a relationship, when you need help, or support, you have already made deposits into the relationship. When you have invested in a relationship, someone is far more likely to be there for you when you need it.

I don’t mean you need to call them every day, but rather that the relationship is active or nurtured. Whatever that is for you.

Don’t be the person who after 3 years of zero contact reaches out to ask for help, and the person on the other end of the phone is wondering why you have called them. Talk about uncomfortable!

Set yourself up for success. Take the opportunity to create your circle of 15.

What is your first step towards creating a support structure that will be ready for you when you need it?

I’d love to know your thoughts.

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THE COACHING LEADER™ - ORIGIN : Sydney 14 Aug, Brisbane 21 Aug, Online 27-28 Aug - With Stacey Ashley & Sarah Derry – Early Bird Individual & Group