Who Do I Trust? (Lesson 3)

Now that you’re in the top seat, there’s something you need to understand and come to grips with pretty quickly. From this day forward, everyone you meet with has an agenda around you. They have a reason for wanting to gain your trust, your approval.

They could be thinking about their career progression, salary, bonuses, delivering on promises to customers, or even trying to make someone else look bad. Everybody has an agenda and, in their mind, you are the only thing standing in the way of that agenda.

As a new CEO, especially if you’re new to the organisation, you’re going to find a lot of people jockeying for position to get your ear. They want to be one of the voices that help influence your world.

It sounds a little like I’m saying that everyone is “evil” and just wanting to get their own way. That’s not the case. Most people are good, and want to do good. Likewise though, most, if not all, have a strong instinct for self-preservation, which impacts their actions in ways they are often not consciously aware of. And it is that self-preservation instinct that often leads them to put their personal agenda and their department’s agenda before the good of the whole.

So, how are you supposed to know who are the voices to trust and who are the voices that don’t have the organisation’s best interests in mind? Here is just one aspect you need to understand:


Understanding the agendas is an exercise in stakeholder engagement. We usually do it with suppliers, shareholders, boards and the like, but sometimes we miss it when it comes to those that answer directly to us.

The power plays that go on among executive teams are driven by their individual personal agendas. You need to quickly ascertain who has what agenda, and why. Often there is a long history involved.

This can devolve into a Machiavellian one-upmanship, but it’s politically the smartest thing to do if the proper values and motivations are behind it. As the CEO, your job is to get the best possible outcome for the whole organisation.

I just used a word that’s pretty unpopular in organisations—the word “politically. Let me be clear on what I mean. Take out all the nasty and frustrating components where people lie, cheat, steal, and most commonly spin things to their own advantage. I’m NOT talking about playing that kind of politics.

I AM talking about being astute enough to understand the dynamics that are in play, and what each player is trying to accomplish.

I hear many a well-meaning leader say, “I don’t play politics,” to which I usually respond, “Well, you better learn!”

The key thing is you don’t have to play the bad kind of politics, the kind we see on the news every night, the kind we complain about when bad decisions get made to appease the few. Believe it or not, you can be an “honest politician” that makes great decisions, but only if you’re a smart one.

You need to understand what is motivating and influencing each of your key team and decision-makers, so you know how much weight to give to their opinions at any given time.