Getting Past the Gate
Several years ago, I contacted the Chief Executive Officer of a large organization. I'd done work with the organization during the tenure of a previous CEO and had studied their operations. My experience could be of assistance in some important areas so I offered to meet, at no charge, to meet and discuss some ideas. It was not a sales call. I would simply make my suggestions and then go away. It would be up to the CEO as to whether or not the ideas would be worth implementing. My motive? I knew they were heading in the wrong direction and wanted to change it.
I never heard back from the person.
Move ahead several years. Same organization. Different CEO. A problem has flared up. I am contacted. This time my advice is not free. A good third of the project could have been obtained at no charge earlier.
Now I know that people get wary whenever there is any offer that looks too good to be true. [At the very least, a "thanks but no thanks" letter would have been nice.] But I was not a complete stranger and my prior dealings with the organization had always been positive.
The experience reminds me of how difficult it can be to penetrate the barrier that protects decision makers. That wall exists for a reason: top executives have tight schedules and large numbers of people clamoring for their attention. Executives need gate-keepers in order to get time to think and to conduct regular business however the gate-keepers, although fine people, may become too strict a filter. I never expected to hear back from the CEO. I expected to hear back from a gate-keeper who would vet my proposal and then give his or her opinion to the CEO.
I once wrote a book on leadership which explored, in part, the gate-keeper issue. My analysis was quite sympathetic to those systems and yet was also in support of ways in which those on the inside can ensure that fresh thinking occasionally gets past the gate. It is easier for those on the inside to reach out to outsiders than for outsiders to reach in.
Unless the leader pushes for that outreach, it is unlikely to happen.