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  • Writer's pictureShoonyo

The CEO Experiment

Updated: Apr 17

Introducing the CEO Experiment: a 30-minute exercise designed for CEOs to ignite a powerful self-reflection. Enhance your understanding of where you stand on the journey of self-actualising leadership.

Think of it as a dedicated reflection session for your leadership. Through this deep reflection process, I've observed that many CEOs often uncover hidden blind spots that can limit their growth. Ultimately, this will lead to saving precious time & effort for both you and your organization. In a nutshell, this exercise offers a path to liberate CEOs from the constant pressure caused by unseen mind patterns, catering especially to those who often find themselves overstretched. Alright, onto the next step...


Who is this experiment for?


Before delving into the reflective process, it's crucial to acknowledge that this reflection is particularly pertinent for CEOs who have either cultivated an organisation from scratch or assumed leadership of an established one.


We have created growth, established systems and processes, recruited talent, and secured buyers for our products. Most importantly, we have generated profits through diligent efforts to maximize income and minimize expenses.


The Gravity


All CEOs face challenges in the process. We do not discuss these out loud, understandably, and maintain a powerful exterior even when the experience feels like a warzone. We respect the confidentiality amongst us. You and I both know how it is. You may find some of this self-talk familiar: 

‘How do I convince the board! This is crucial’, Or ‘I don’t want to babysit CXOs to align them, but then I don't know what else to do?’ Or ‘If they could just row in the same direction effectively!’


We celebrate victories alongside the team, but the burden of setbacks falls squarely on our shoulders. The pressure to deliver breeds stress and isolation. The responsibility for providing food on the table of several families that work for you, depend on you, trust you. Few see the lonely nights filled with silent tears (or worse, the tears we force back).


This experiment cuts through that. It's designed to help CEOs find their bearings, identify one critical leadership pattern to address right now and work on it.


Let's explore the underlying forces that drive our actions.


The Inherent Need for Expansion

For many CEOs, the truth is that ‘green’ on the balance sheet, while undeniably satisfying, becomes a starting point, not a finish line. Eventually, a deeper need for expansion emerges - a craving for growth beyond the financial metrics. 

We thrive on challenges. We conquer them, and in doing so, we conquer ourselves – we grow as leaders.  This is the core reason we embark on this journey – to expand ourselves, using the organisation as a springboard for personal growth.

Deep down, every CEO starts with a subconscious desire for self-actualization. It's a relentless pursuit, a seemingly endless mission fueled by the desire to experience the ultimate fulfilment of self-expansion.

Pushing past your perceived limits on this journey to self-actualisation brings satisfaction money can't touch. Think back to when you implemented a bold new strategy that revitalized your organization, Or when you felt fully expressed in the board meeting, Or when you succeeded in scaling after dedicated efforts of several months.


The satisfaction of actualising your potential in such situations overshadows the monetary gain - that's a feeling money can't buy. Financial growth, then, is seen as a by-product of your capability to actualise your potential.


The History:


In the year 2010, I was working in Business Intelligence with a telecom giant in London, UK. I loved working amongst these highly passionate and highly intellectual leaders. 


At one point, the organisation was going through a rebranding exercise. Several meetings and discussions were being held. All these passionate people were racking their brains to ensure that every resource and effort aligned with the strategy. This is when I created the beta version of this experiment and introduced it to a director and senior managers. 


Thanks to my decades of interest in psychology and leadership, I could bring such value to the table. It was in this year 2010, that I started having close conversations with CEOs and exploring the practical aspects of leadership. 


Since then, this experiment has been honed and polished, and keeps getting fine tuned till date. The principles of this experiment have also been published in my book, in 2019. 


The CEO Experiment:


I love doing this experiment with the CEOs that I coach and it adds great value to their journey by giving them an orientation on their growth. Hence, I am going with the instinct of sharing this with you and creating a wider impact in the CEO fraternity.


The experiment reveals certain facts about the CEOs that were unknown to them. Now that these facts are known, the course of action of the CEOs and many times their choices too shift, making them way more effective. This is one reflective exercise that puts their reality in perspective. 


Let us set the context, so we are all on the same page... 


The Pyramids:


It is most likely that you are familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. However, here we'll explore an adapted version of the pyramid, designed specifically for CEOs for organisational leadership. This will help us align on its application and ignite your reflective thinking around our own leadership experiences.


Maslow’s hierarchy of needs - The CEOs Experiment

Maslow proposed this pyramid as one of the most cognitively contagious ideas in behavioral science. 


The theory suggests that as we overcome different stages in our lives, as we are able to provide ourselves with certain experiences, we feel fulfilled at that stage and move up the ladder, or aspire to move to the next stage. Starting with fulfilling our survival needs.


At the very basic level, when physiological needs are met, the pertinent need changes to safety needs, then to belonging, followed by the motivation towards esteem and finally towards Self-actualization. Only when a particular need is met the motivation towards satisfying the needs on the next rung arise.


Shoonyo’s Leadership Pyramid is an adaptation for CEOs. But unlike needs, here the leader displays certain behaviours and indicators when responding to a challenge. Based on what rung they are responding from, the effectiveness of the leadership increases or decreases.


The image shows a crisp version of drivers, behaviours, and indicators at these different rungs.  


Shoonyo®’s Leadership pyramid for CEOs Experiment

Application of Shoonyo®’s Leadership Pyramid


Now that we have the background, let’s get to the application - the reflective part of the experiment:


The idea of this experiment is not to rethink or improvise the theory but use the pyramid as a tool for us to reflect on our experience as a leader, and bring about awareness to move up the pyramid. This means we should be able to locate ourselves on one of the rungs of the pyramid and see clearly what lies immediately ahead of us. 


The ideal conditions for reflection are staying relaxed (both physically and mentally), releasing any need for overthinking, and allowing and trusting intuition. 


STEP 1: Where am I?

This step gets you to locate what rung of the pyramid you are operating from and brings the limitations of your thinking to light.


Sit with the spine straight, in a fairly quiet place. Stretch your body, your arms and relax back into your seat. Take a deep and slow breath to provide enough oxygen to your body and your brain - this will release the stress further.


And take two more such deep and slow breaths. Relax and remember that our intuition is here to help us in this process.

Think about the most pressing challenge you currently face. How are you approaching it? You are responding to this challenge in a certain way and that corresponds to a rung on Shoonyo’s leadership pyramid.


Doesn’t mean you are on that rung in all the situations, but only for this challenge you happen to operate from that rung. To locate yourself on the pyramid, for this challenge, consider the below questions:


  1. What driver doesn’t matter to you anymore inside your decisions as a CEO, for this challenge? 

  2. Behaviour on what rung is closest to yours as a CEO with this challenge? 

  3. What would your leadership team say if asked about your behaviour indicator around this challenge? 


Particularly in the context of us as CEOs, we would know intuitively, without overthinking where we are on the pyramid. As you reflect on the above questions, just go with that intuition; your mind knows to surface the most relevant situations, go with its indication and mark yourself on a rung. 


Take a moment to jot down your key insights:

  • What challenge showed up for you? 

  • Did any patterns get revealed?

  • What rung are you operating from?



STEP 2: The Shift (Using Case Studies)

We continue working on the same challenge as in the previous step. This step brings a shift in perception and you get to discover a leadership competence that can resolve your challenge.


Leadership isn't just about theory. It's about applying competence to real-world challenges. We'll focus on specific organizational problems and identify the leadership competence needed to shift the game.


In this experiment, we'll be diving deep into three essential leadership competencies: decision-making, taking initiative and critique.

When I conduct this exercise one:one it is pretty elaborate. Since we don’t have that privilege in the written form, I am cutting it short and using another method, by making it intuitive for your mind through some cited examples.


Premise:


 There has to be an application of leadership competence that I am blinded to in this challenging situation. When I realise what competence I have been overlooking, I should be able to operate differently and possibly from a higher rung. Let us discover what is the missing leadership competence for the same challenging situation.


Sit with the spine straight, in a fairly quiet place. Stretch your body, and your arms and relax back into your seat. Take a deep and slow breath to provide enough oxygen to your body and your brain - this will release the stress further. 


And take two more such deep and slow breaths. Relax and remember that our intuition is here to help us in this process.

 

In the following paragraphs are 3 examples of CEOs and what they discovered about themselves when asked the million-dollar question – If you were to move closer to Self-Actualisation, what is that one competence that you know you ought to have and apply, and maybe you are stalling working towards it? 


Hold onto this question for now – the answer will surface as you read on.


So I ask this question to CEOs after they have located themselves on the pyramid: If you were to move closer to self-actualisation, what is that one competence you know you need to develop and apply? And maybe you are stalling working towards it?


And they start to scan their experience as a CEO, in their mind’s eye, and come up with several responses.


 

Here are 3 case studies, that will give cues to your subconscious to bring forth the leadership competence you need to impact your organization the most: 


1) One of my clients from the IT Industry, (>$60M) faced constant pressure to adapt to a rapidly changing market. This presented a constant challenge internally as the processes couldn’t be set and had to be frequently changed. The set-up cost and loss of time brought down the margins. 


On the outside, it felt necessary to quickly respond to the market, "The market waits for no one," he'd often think, and felt an urgency creeping in. The fear of launching products with even minor quality issues (even packaging!) loomed large. Reputation damage was too expensive.


In my 1:1 coaching sessions, I took him through the elaborate version of the CEO experiment. He was able to identify that he had been ineffective at decision-making. He was unable to make firm and clear decisions and would end up making workable decisions that others find acceptable. 


As a result, he was compromising instead of leading. The result was that the entire organisation was working on multiple products and for multiple target markets. This was spreading the resources thin and adding to chaos internally. It wasn’t much of a challenge because of the changing market conditions, after all. 


By reflecting on another set of core questions, he gained insight to discover their strengths and decide to let go of certain products accordingly. He emerged with this newfound clarity and could see that ineffective decision-making was impacting other areas of his CEO role too. 


We worked diligently on his mental model. Instead of making acceptable decisions, he shifted to making sound decisions and then working towards the agreement of the stakeholders. We were able to impact many other challenging areas, resulting in streamlining the effort of the organisation with this single finding.


Reflection: 

  1. Are you being effective or ineffective with sound decision-making in your area of challenge? 

  2. What will be the impact of increasing the effectiveness of your decision-making?

 

2) I recently coached a passionate CEO running a health-tech startup with tons of potential. But like many young companies, they faced obstacles to growth. "We need to get bigger, faster!" she'd often think, feeling the pressure to expand. This led her to desperately chase investments. From the outside, it seemed obvious: bring in money, hire more people, and grow quickly. She spent a lot of time networking and prepping for investor meetings, believing these efforts would fuel growth.


During our coaching sessions, we did an exercise to help her see things differently. She realized her focus on constant activity had created a lenient attitude toward resource orientation and performance. This led to inefficiency and hindered rapid upgrade of the product. 


And in spite of having knowledge of this, it never occurred to her that taking initiative in this area was missing. This reflection was a turning point. She shifted from constant outside actions to also focusing on the inside of the organisation, towards team and resource effectiveness. 


She started three initiatives towards building a high performing company culture, something she had previously overlooked.


By understanding her role more deeply,  and discovering the missing leadership competence of initiatives, she completely transformed her leadership approach. Focusing on internal effectiveness paved the way for sustainable growth. 


Reflection: 

  1. Are you being effective or ineffective with taking initiative in your area of challenge? 

  2. What will be the impact of increasing the effectiveness of your taking initiatives? 

 

3) I'm currently coaching the CEO of a company in the chemical industry with a turnover exceeding $135M. He has a clear vision for significant growth but faces a challenge – aligning his CXO team with his vision.


Caught in the whirlwind of constant meetings, the CEO worried about his CXOs feeling insecure. This internal struggle – wanting them to see the growth potential for everyone – left him feeling helpless at times. As a result, the CXOs had been holding themselves back, and not cooperating with hired consultants. And so, the growth projections of the previous quarter had not been met.

Through our CEO Experiment reflection,  the CEO gained a clear perspective on the root cause of the problem. The very action he was subconsciously avoiding – having difficult conversations with his team – was holding the organization back. He discovered that the leadership competence of critique had to be developed.

I am currently working to develop critique in the CEO. This shift is enabling the CEO to have confrontational conversations and bring synergy to the leadership team. 


Reflection: 

  1. Are you an effective or ineffective critique in your area of challenge? 

  2. What will be the impact of becoming an effective critique? 


The trick is to not overthink. Simply trust what the mind has brought up as the most relevant leadership competence required to be developed. 


You may want to self-reflect at this point:

  • What did you discover? 

  • What leadership competence (or lack of) has the highest impact on your leadership? 

  • What leadership competence are you choosing to develop and apply next?


That concludes the experiment. I trust it has been fruitful for you and that you will take action on your discovery. 


Bonus: Take a quantum leap in your leadership instead of gradual growth.


Since 2010, the experiment has grown (or partly in the bonus section) ... with all my experiences with CEOs, my studies with Harvard University, learnings from world-class leadership coaches, and detailed study of published work.


This experiment is just the beginning.  The real power lies in quantum reflection. As a bonus, here are two quantum reflective questions for you:

  • Is there a notion that one must develop one quality at a time or ascend one level of the pyramid sequentially?

  • How could you bring about a fundamental shift that transcends individual levels and impacts your entire leadership structure?


Take a few minutes to contemplate these questions. You'll soon discover pathways to operate from a highly effective state of mind.

In my CEO coaching sessions, I guide you to take such a quantum leap. It brings a radical shift in leadership, propelling you towards Self-Actualisation.

This transformation can significantly impact various aspects of the CEO role, like Bringing Strategic Clarity, Enhancing Executive Excellence of CXOs, Leading and Inspiring the Board and Aligning Talent to the Vision of the Organisation. If advancing your leadership towards self-actualization resonates with you, we could continue this conversation on a call.  I've included my availability below for you to schedule a call at your convenience.



Suggestions to help your network 


This experiment is being done in written form for the first time. I intend to keep checking any valuable inputs in the comments and bring further precision to the experiment. 


Do comment with your suggestions to support your CEO fraternity worldwide.


I deeply appreciate your participation.

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