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Has The Chief Executive Officer Been Replaced By The Chief Elusive Officer?

The title of CEO can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Historically viewed as the ultimate advocate, the captain of the ship and the key cultural champion, a CEO can be the living, breathing embodiment of what a business stands for — its mission, values and purpose.

However, today’s CEOs may not be held in such esteem, which is worrying at a time when engaging remote workers is critical to business resilience.

As a matter of fact, recent findings from a report conducted by my company found that many CEOs are shrouded in mystery lately, disconnected and distant from their workforce. Given that many nonmanagers do not even have any contact with their CEO, perhaps these leaders should be renamed chief elusive officers.

Let’s examine why chief elusive officers are a new norm and how leaders can bridge the gap between the C-suite and employees.

Inside The Ivory Tower

When CEOs are laser-focused on setting the stage, they often forget about their home base — their employees — and how crucial it is to connect with them in a meaningful way. For instance, according to our report, only 42% of nonmanagerial employees have met their CEO in a one-to-one situation. This can increase distance between management and its employees. The reduced transparency obstructs trust.

Lack of visibility and communication has ripple effects. About 32% of those surveyed don’t believe they have a clear idea of the vision of the CEO in their organization. And a mere 55% believe their CEOs listen to and care for employee opinions.

If leaders hope to move the needle on that 55%, they must examine current methods of communication and explore new ways to open up a dialogue with employees that encourages feedback. That all starts with identifying the barriers to entry.

Mind The Gap

Adding to a lack of accessibility, it appears many workers don’t have confidence in their influence — we found that less than half of nonmanagerial employees believe their ideas are valued within their organization.

Unfortunately, perception isn’t always at the heart of this issue because some organizations can still have outdated approaches to inclusivity. According to research from the Centre for Employee Relations & Communication, "only 13% of the companies out of those in the sample adopt an inclusive approach to relationships with employees, a fair approach to organizational justice, and a developmental approach to human resources management, setting up a fully engaging organizational context."

This is not a sustainable, let alone healthy, way of operating. Leaders must actively combat these constructs by building a truly democratic approach to workplace culture, one that gives its people a voice regardless of gender or background. This requires executives to do whatever they can — particularly from a diversity and inclusivity perspective — to make employees feel empowered to speak up and find their voices.

This will invite an open and honest dialogue with their workforce, which can pay dividends in the long run. As Scientific American reported, in collaboration with SC Johnson, “human-centric cultures” can increase trust within a workforce, build productivity, loyalty and, ultimately, profits.

Unity = Viability

With barriers removed and a pathway for collaboration cleared, leaders can begin to dispel any elusive aura that may surround them. To ensure all elusiveness is gone for good, executives should keep these tips in mind: 

 Prioritize face-to-face time with all employees. This could be as simple as setting up more all-hands meetings, or, better yet, specific “office hours” time slots for employees to come and go as they please, which can help you make a genuine connection with each worker. Most importantly, remember to always be present, open and approachable with every employee interaction you have.

• Encourage an open dialogue and be receptive to feedback. It can be scary for employees to tell you how they really feel, as they may fear potential repercussions. It's your responsibility as an executive to set expectations and define the standard for feedback. Let them know that all constructive feedback is not only welcomed, but encouraged, and that their feedback has a tangible impact on improving business operations.

• Champion diversity and inclusivity initiatives. Culture starts from the top — the values of an executive ultimately permeate the values of the entire organization. You can make diversity a priority by remaining vocal about the things that matter, hiring with inclusivity in mind and openly celebrating all backgrounds and walks of life.

From there, executives and workers alike can work together to make decisions that are best for the business. Employees will feel like they have a voice, and overall work satisfaction will rise. In turn, leaders will witness the positive side effects of an empowered workforce.

From improved decision-making to increased productivity to more room for innovation, the benefits of an empowered workforce run the gamut. In fact, McKinsey found that "CEOs who insist on rigorously measuring and managing all cultural elements that drive performance more than double the odds that their strategies will be executed. And over the long term, they deliver triple the total return to shareholders that other companies deliver."

"Ultimately, the end result is the same: Employees are happier; CEOs are more impactful, and the organization performs." 

Mike Ettling CEO Unit4

Ultimately, the end result is the same: Employees are happier; CEOs are more impactful, and the organization performs. Release the enthusiasm in your people by genuinely engaging with them, asking their opinion, listening to what they say, acting on it, trusting them to make decisions themselves and giving them technology that makes it easier to experiment and innovate.

The more the CEO and workforce are connected, the more competitive an organization can become.

Mike Ettling - Chief Executive Office at Unit4

Mike Ettling



I’m a CEO, Investor, builder of world class teams, champion of diversity and continuous learner, and I’m passionate about people. From my first leadership role in the Boy Scouts, to exec positions in the tech industry, my career has revolved around elevating, engaging and enabling people. I joined Unit4 to get the market as excited in our unique approach to enterprise tech as I am. We’re building systems that change how people experience work, and the impact will be huge.

Outside of work I’m a family man, a Liverpool supporter, and a proud South African.