The Card Playing CEO

Now, here’s something you don’t see every day:  a company CEO sitting in the firm’s break room playing cards with his frontline employees. 

Or do you? 

This is the question I’ve been pondering for awhile after I witnessed this exact scenario at a client’s headquarters a few weeks ago.  After making a few discreet inquiries with other members of the management team, I discovered that this is not unusual for the company’s CEO, Pete.  “Oh, yeah, Pete will do that every so often.  You know, to get the pulse of things going on” said one Vice President.  Here’s another thing that I noticed: it wasn’t some awkward “I-have-to-mingle-with-the-rank-and-file” scene that could have been straight out of The Office. Both Pete and the employees seemed very at ease with this activity, as if, (gasp!) they actually enjoyed hanging out together.

So how does Pete do it?  How does he create approachability?

1. He creates ways for employees to gain access to him. Playing cards is just one way he stays in touch with his workforce.  For example, he has regular “Lunch with Pete” gatherings, and he has a true open door policy.

2. His ego is an asset, not a liability. Pete knows he’s at the head of this company’s food chain. He wields this power with care and only when needed, such as making the final call on organizational strategy after having listened to a variety of perspectives.  

3. He packs his own lunch. Literally.  The day I saw him playing cards, he had just pulled a steaming container of leftovers out of the microwave.  This has a humanizing effect that telegraphs to the employees: “Pete is down-to-earth (like us); he even brings his own lunch”. It also sends a subtle message about frugality and corporate resources.  If the CEO is willing to eat leftovers rather than dine on $100 lunches at a fancy bistro, then he’s probably going to spend the company’s money wisely too.

4. He genuinely cares about his fellow employees. He takes an appropriate interest in their lives outside of the office, knowing the names of kids, spouses and other significant events in the employees’ lives.

Are you a leader in your organization?  How do you create approachability with your co-workers?  Even if you don’t play cards with your employees, you can still create an atmosphere that encourages respect amongst each other and open communication.

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