No one wants to tell a CEO-owner that their baby is ugly

Building a company is a very personal matter. Anyone who has ever started a business from scratch knows that they feel sensitive about every aspect of the business, like a parent you are proud and protective. Good feedback is welcomed with a smile. Bad feedback, on the other hand, is usually met with a defence.

No one wants to tell a CEO-owner that their baby is ugly, or even that they have some blemishes because they don’t want to deal with the defence mechanisms, usually displayed with at least a touch of anger and aggression.

As a leadership coach and development consultant, it’s my job to go in and do just this, to fearlessly point out the good, the blemishes and the plain ugly. To do this well, I have had to adopt numerous strategies to get past the angry stage. In one case I start feedback sessions with “we need to go to lunch” which has become code for “I have some ugly feedback, and if we go to a restaurant you’ll think twice about getting angry.”

It is not that my clients don’t want to hear feedback, it’s that it feels very personal because they are all working so hard to build a good company and a great place to work.

This issue is not one that only founders face, many caring executives running businesses or institutions feel the same pain when confronted with feedback that is not as good as they hoped.

Everything and everyone is connected. What happens in one area has a butterfly effect in another, this can make the possibility of creating a great company seem too complicated.

The power of separation

There is power in stepping back periodically and separating yourself from your business. Developing this ability is key to using feedback to maintain the good and address the ugly.

It requires a mindset shift created by checking into your beliefs about you and the business.

  • You are not the business, and it is not you.
  • Your actions matter and so do those of your leaders.
  • You don’t have to fix everything yourself.
  • Your leaders will take responsibility for the culture and performance.
  • People come to work to do a good job.

Overseeing the leadership behaviours of your leaders should receive the same attention as your financial performance. Admittedly, the data sets are not as clearly defined or as well organised as management accounts, but it is still possible to collect and assemble data on leadership and use this to make decisions and build strategies to grow the business into a great company.

Tools, Values, Language, Artifacts, Myths, Stories and Rituals

Leadership is an experience people get working inside a company. It is experienced through the interactions people have with their manager and other leaders.

Tools and Language

We use tools every day; spreadsheets, PowerPoint, Word, email, SLACK, meetings, briefings, conference calls, and so on, but it how we use these tools to share information, collaborate and manage that provides that basis of the leadership experience we give to others.

It is therefore essential to also adopt leadership tools to enable you to get the most out of your interactions with others. These can include tools that allow you to understand your people to tailor your approach to their needs. Tools that enable your managers to build a shared vision that aligns their objectives and priorities.

Adopting leadership tools will allow your leadership team to create a language about leadership and strategise together about building a sustainable performance culture.


Values are the foundation stones to build a culture that supports your business ambitions. These exist within everyone that comes to work for you. Creating a healthy culture requires values to be acknowledged, talked about, understood and lived, this is not something managers do to their people, quite the contrary, this is something a leader does for their people.

Leaders need to address values continuously to ensure they create the DNA they want for their business. It is healthy to allow values to be interpreted uniquely by each group within the organisation; this is an organic and fun way that helps people find real meaning and connection to the company’s culture.

Stories, Myths Artefacts and Rituals

Humans have been using storytelling to communicate concepts and complex ideas since the dawn of language. Cave painting was the antecedent of PowerPoint and used to teach, record history and inform a community. From these stories and artefacts, we can determine a lot about our ancient ancestors.

Similarly, the people working in your organisation can determine a lot about expectations through the stories they hear, the images that are used to teach them and how history is reported.

Leaders (and leadership teams) that pay attention to the stories they promote, the rituals they use and the artefacts they create are superior to those that allow these crucial elements to exist by accident.

Your baby never need be ugly if you take leadership development seriously.

If you are interested in learning more about MGL or how to implement any of our models with your team, please contact or call +1 203 253 2836.

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