We’re accustomed to thinking of CEO whisperers as people like Bill Campbell and Tony Robbins—leadership coaches who advise Silicon Valley’s most prominent chief executives. But Silicon Foundry Partner Sehr Thadhani, who previously co-founded and ran an executive advisory firm, says the role of the CEO whisperer goes deeper than offering advice on how to run a business. Today’s best CEO whisperers practice what Thadhani calls “executive world building”—they leverage industry and cultural conversations to create a bespoke ecosystem that’s designed to equip executives with the access, influence, and intelligence they need to realize their goals.
“When it comes to building meaningful networks, executives can’t just rely on who they know,” Thadhani explained. “The real question is whether the right people know you. CEO whisperers make that happen by building an ecosystem around their executives.”
That starts with mutual trust. CEO whisperers gain a deep understanding of their executives’ beliefs, value systems, and visions for their personal and professional lives. The whisperer calibrates that information with what’s going on in business and culture to identify the right partnerships, platforms, groups, and introductions. The result: a network and opportunity set that’s authentic to the executive and designed to get them where they want to go.
Building Ecosystems, Acting as Agents
Executives are no longer anonymous business people—they’re public figures with large platforms who are expected to have opinions on politics, culture, and social and racial justice. Thadhani anticipates that trend will grow as companies increasingly seek leaders with personal brands they can leverage. But for executives, staying on the cutting edge and knowing how to position yourself culturally can be challenging when you have a business to run. Thadhani says that’s where CEO whisperers are critical.
“Whisperers are doing for executives what talent agents do for celebrities—building supportive ecosystems,” she explained. “Agents create pathways for celebrities to build businesses, make investments, and be at the center of culture. CEO whisperers do that for c-suite leaders in a way that benefits both the executive and the company they work for.”
Identify and Invest in the Right Whisperer
Whisperers don’t need to come from an elite business or educational background in order to be successful. What matters most, Thadhani says, is finding a whisperer who’s thoughtful, savvy, and plugged in. “Your whisperer needs to have a wide lens on business and culture,” Thadhani said. “They need to have hustle and the ability to spot opportunities others wouldn’t see. They need to be okay with working behind the scenes.” Most importantly, they need to be someone you trust.
A skilled whisperer takes the same approach to positioning their executive that the best marketers take to positioning their product. They evaluate what the executive cares about, why they matter, who they want to reach, and who they should be adjacent to. Once a whisperer develops that roadmap, they secure opportunities that bring it to life.
Doing that requires thinking big, which is why Thadhani recommends that a whisper come from outside your organization. “Corporations can be prone to tunnel vision,” she explained. “A CEO whisperer needs the freedom and breadth to do the opposite of that—think big picture to identify what’s best for the executive they’re working with.”
Some organizations might balk at the prospect of paying for what they see as a senior executive’s personal development or PR project. Thadhani says that’s a false dichotomy now that the lines between the personal and professional are increasingly blurred. “It’s wrong to think of this as a vanity project,” she explained. “Corporations should instead realize that their senior leaders are their best ambassadors, and it’s important to invest in what they need to grow and thrive.”
Thadhani predicts that in the next five to ten years, working with a whisperer will be required for executives, no matter their industry. When senior leaders accrue access, influence, and intelligence, their companies benefit. A CEO whisperer is what helps them get there.