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Why This CEO Spent Time Training for the Circus

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The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “What are some strategies for making allies in the office?” is written by Mike Tuchen, CEO of Talend.

I’ve worked hard to develop and improve the skills needed to be the best CEO I can be. Yet as a former engineer, and a bit of an introvert, I have to make a conscious daily effort to be more accessible and approachable. Here are my tips on creating the type of open-door culture that can help you build the alliances, trust, and teams you need for success:

Hit the road
Skype, video conferencing, and online meetings are great communication tools, but nothing replaces one-on-one meetings to establish open dialogue and build trust. Make an effort to visit your major offices often, and get to the smaller locations when you can too.

When I became CEO of Talend, I was tasked with building a team in California while adding new talent in Europe. During my first two years, I spent a week a month traveling to offices throughout the world to meet with teams face to face. I logged approximately 150,000 to 200,000 miles each year, and only cut back on that travel as we headed into our IPO last July.

Find different ways to connect
Sure, your family and friends may not treat you differently because you’re a CEO (at least mine don’t), but some employees may put you on a pedestal. Make a concerted effort to find ways to connect with team members you don’t frequently interact with. Walk around the office to catch up with people and take the time to chat with anyone who swings by your office.

I take time to sit with our engineers to understand the details of what they’re working on, discuss how to increase traffic with our web team, and go over account strategies and meet customers with our sales team. And while I’m not that guy who’s the life of the party, I’ve pushed myself to do things like dressing as a rock star for our company Halloween party, taking part in the company’s circus training team-building exercise, and trying my hand at table tennis in our annual contest.

Be honest about mistakes
It’s incredibly hard for an employee to discuss problems with a CEO who’s perceived as infallible. Openly communicate with your team about mistakes you’ve made and what you’ve learned from them. If you own up to errors and deconstruct problems, the entire company will learn from it and your team will see you as more human. They’ll also realize that it’s okay to admit their own mistakes. If everyone is trying to pretend they’re perfect, then it’s impossible to know what’s really going on, much less how you’re going to get better over time.

 

Seek regular feedback
Don’t wait to realize your own mistakes to ask for feedback. While your team may be aware of problems related to your performance, employees will probably shy away from proactively raising an issue. Make it a point to ask those familiar with your work to conduct a review and provide feedback, both anonymously and for attribution.

One of the most important parts of this review is discussing what you’ve learned openly with the team. I sit down with my executive team and walk through what I’ve heard, acknowledge what’s not working, and talk about what I’ll work on changing as a result. This shifts the dynamic from areas that people are tiptoeing around to those where everyone is able to have open, honest, and direct conversations.

When your team regularly has opportunities to interact with you in business and social situations, and knows that you will own your mistakes and welcome feedback, they’ll be more forthcoming with you. That open communication will provide you with more of the knowledge you need to maximize your team’s strengths and ultimately help drive your company’s success.