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Eyes Everywhere: 6 Ways to Stay Aware as a CEO

Thomas O'Malley
Thomas O'Malley

As CEO, you need to know what's happening in your organization at all times. While you can (hopefully) trust management and staff to deal with the minutiae of everyday operations, you do need to be consistently aware of problems, concerns, and issues that could impact morale, productivity or sales.

But awareness isn't restricted to just the internal workings of your company. It also means being aware of your own motivations, as well as what's going on in the world around you.

This post will look at six ways you can remain aware at all times, both to internal concerns as well as to outside influences that could impact your business.

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1. Meet Regularly With "Insiders"

If you're an introvert who spends a disproportionate amount of time working alone, you could be missing out on critical information about your company and employees. Several studies have been conducted over the past few years to figure out exactly how much time CEOs typically spend working with others. 

According to one study which looked at 94 CEOs of major Italian corporations, the average CEO spends 85 percent of their time working with others. This includes not only face-to-face meetings but also phone calls and public appearances. Not only does more time spent with others mean increased awareness, it can also mean increased productivity: according to the study, for every one percent gain in time spent with an "insider" (as opposed to someone from outside the organization), CEOs experience a 1.23 percent increase in productivity.

2. Pay Attention to Emotional Cues

Awareness can take many forms. While it's important to be aware of explicitly expressed concerns, it's equally important to pay attention to more subtle, non-verbal cues.

Here's an example: A manager comes to you requesting that one of her team members be moved to another department. When pushed for more information, she states that the team member "just isn't a good fit". Relying solely on what she's saying, this could be the end of the story. However, an emotionally aware leader will pay attention to the posture, mood and other non-verbal cues the manager is displaying.

These could potentially reveal ulterior motives (a fear of being outdone by a subordinate), or discord or in-fighting within the department. A keen awareness of what's not being said could even help identify potential harassment, protecting you and your employees from possible legal repercussions.

3. Become Self-Aware

Being truly aware goes beyond simply awareness of the opinions and behaviors of those around you; it also means being aware of your own strengths, weaknesses and motivations. Anthony Tjan, the author of "Heart, Smarts, Guts and Luck", writes, "It is self-awareness that allows the best business-builders to walk the tightrope of leadership: projecting conviction while simultaneously remaining humble enough to be open to new ideas and opposing opinions."

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In other words, when you know exactly what you believe, you'll feel a freedom to look outside yourself and consider other people's thoughts and opinions. And ultimately, this will make you a more respected and effective leader.

4. Make Reading a Priority

Part of being aware is knowing what's going on in the world around you. This means staying on top of current events, being aware of new developments in your industry, and constantly growing through reading and researching new ideas.

It's well-known that legendary investor Warren Buffett is a voracious reader. In fact, he spends around 80 percent of each day reading. The reason? He believes that reading helps him avoid making impulsive, ill-informed decisions. He once said, "I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think.

That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking, and make fewer impulse decisions than most people in business." If you want to be a more aware leader, make a point of reading every day. Not only will it increase your knowledge of what's going on around you, it may help you make wiser, better-informed decisions.

5. Network With Other CEOs

Networking isn't just important for finding new business opportunities and expanding your circle of influence. It also gives you a vital awareness of what's happening among other businesses in your industry. Tom Farley, President of the New York Stock Exchange, once wrote that he owed every job he's ever had to networking. He believes that networking is the key to succeeding, both personally and professionally.

But he cautions that networking doesn't have to be (nor should it be) restricted to those in your industry. He writes, "It doesn’t matter if someone is inside or outside of your industry, if they are interesting and influential, be willing to commit time and/or resources to meet with or help that individual. Sometimes it’s individuals completely outside your immediate sphere that end up being a connector or offering the savvy advice that propels you forward at a crucial junction."

6. Be Visible and Approachable

There's no substitute for being present on the (literal or figurative) "floor". If you aren't regularly spending time among your staff and managers, you're likely missing out on reams of important information about how your organization is run.

When you're regularly present among your employees, they'll undoubtedly feel more comfortable approaching you if they have concerns. And this means you're made aware of potential problems before they get out of hand.

According to a Gallup poll, employees who feel their manager is approachable are also far more engaged: Of employees who believe they can approach their manager with any question, 54 percent are engaged. Of those who "strongly disagree" that they can approach their manager with questions, only two percent are engaged. In other words, being visible and approachable isn't just good for maintaining an awareness of the inner workings of your company it's the recipe for maintaining an engaged and productive workforce.

Related Article: Girl Power: Why Your Next CEO Should Be a Woman

Final Thoughts

As CEO, you have no option but to remain aware at all times. You need to know what's happening within your organization, industry and the world around you in order to make informed decisions. The six strategies above will help to ensure you're doing just that.

How do you stay aware? Are there any strategies missing from this list? Share below.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Thomas O'Malley
Thomas O'Malley Member
Thomas O'Malley is the founder and CEO of Convetit.