What is a Grand Vizier?


In olden times, a monarch often had a grand vizier, who served not only as an executive of the realm, but as a confidant. Rulers could trust this grand vizier in a way that they couldn’t rely on lesser ministers, friends, or even family members. The key: The vizier was totally loyal to the ruler in a personal way that others were not.

In today’s business society, chief executive officers hold positions much like the rulers of ancient realms. The position is a lonely one. They must often make crucial decisions on the basis of inadequate information and without the knowledge of the people most affected. At times, these difficult decisions threaten to raise the ire of those who are most closely associated with the CEO.

To ease this stress-filled existence, CEO’s need a modern-day version of the grand vizier. That is, a truly knowledgeable outsider who is an objective, trusted’ intelligent person who has had a wide range of experiences.

Main function: To serve as sounding board and adviser. This vizier-consultant monitors for mistakes and is especially alert to patterns of errors that the CEO might fall into. The modern day vizier has no position inside the company and is not encumbered by loyalty to any member of the staff.

The vizier’s big advantage: The ability to be objective. The relationship usually has at its heart people problems in the company. Above all, the vizier­ consultant provides the CEO with support during the lonely and worrisome times. The position also requires the ability to confront the chief executive when irrational reactions occasionally threaten the company’s well-being.

Qualifications: Almost any keen outside observer can serve as vizier-consultant. But by training and inclination, the best are psychiatrists and psychologists. They have already learned to respect confidences and personal loyalties to clients. They are accustomed to retaining objectivity during long-term intense relationships. And, if these analysts have business backgrounds, the combination is even more fruitful.

Benefits: The chances of a CEO making a gross error are close to zero when backed by this kind of relationship. The vizier-consultant also provides insulation from flatterers and opportunists. And the vizier-consultant is free to question and confront the CEO on major decisions, a path not open to those on staff without fear of repercussions. Since the consultant usually has many clients, being fired by the CEO is not a ruling fear.

How to find a vizier: The person who becomes a confidant is often a specialist originally hired to solve specific personnel problems. If the chemistry is right, a close bond develops between the CEO and the consultant.

Effective use: All discussions are initiated by the CEO, who sets the agenda. Talks might concern nagging problems such as office relocation. Or they could embrace tremendous decisions such as merger possibilities.

Common mistake: By habit, the CEO may carry on these discussions with a spouse, lover or friend But close personal relationships can sour. Then the confidant will turn away. Worse: The CEO faces the possibility that the former listener will broadcast the shared secrets to anyone willing to listen. Speaking to a professional vizier guarantees confidentiality.


© Dr. Martin Groder
Reprinted with permission from Boardroom Reports