As a leader, there’s lots of advice I can give my employees. But one of the most important is also relatively simple: don’t look your CEO in the eyes!
Looking someone in the eyes implies that you are equals. But the CEO is high above their employees, so employees shouldn’t look him in the eyes. Thinking of yourself as an equal to your leader is a sign of disrespect to the CEO and their role. Your boss worked hard to get where they are and are more experienced, skilled, and smarter than you. Don’t dare consider yourself their equal.
There’s nothing a CEO hates more than a young employee strutting into the office and looking them in the eye. The next thing you know, they’ll be calling the CEO by their first name, asking about their weekend, and asking them for coffee. That’s not how an employee should act around the CEO.
Making eye contact with the CEO throws off the crucial power balance in the office. Researchers put it this way: “Too much eye contact is instinctively felt to be rude, hostile and condescending; and in a business context, it may also be perceived as a deliberate intent to dominate, intimidate, belittle, or make “the other” feel at a disadvantage.”
When you look your CEO in the eyes, you’re challenging their authority and stirring the pot. Employees should show they are submissive to the CEO by avoiding eye contact. Or better yet, not approaching them at all!
Avoiding eye contact shows weakness, which is what employees are. By not looking their CEO in the eyes, employees are showing that they know the CEO is better than them. They understand their role isn’t to challenge authority or think of themselves as equals to the leader but to keep their heads down and put in the work.
Scientists have proven that eye contact builds connection. But the last thing the CEO needs is a connection to their employees. CEOs work best when they are removed from their minions and get to sit in their corner offices. When employees start looking them in the eyes, it strengthens relationships that don’t need to be strengthened. Eye contact is a slippery slope to leaders caring about employees as people–something they definitely don’t have time for.
The best employees keep their heads down, stay quiet, and get their work done. They don’t make eye contact with their leaders. If you want to succeed, the last thing you should do is look your CEO in the eyes. Look away and get to work!
-The Outdated Leader
Over the last 15 years, I’ve had the privilege of speaking and working with some of the world’s top leaders. Here are 15 of the best leadership lessons that I learned from the CEOs of organizations like Netflix, Honeywell, Volvo, Best Buy, The Home Depot, and others. I hope they inspire you and give you things you can try in your work and life. Get the PDF here.