C-Suite Leadership

What To Say When Your CEO or CFO Ask How You Know

We rely too often on our own credibility or research or vendor propaganda to sell our proposals. We rely too little on the best way we know that what we know is right.

Scott Smeester


September 7, 2023

Photo credit:
Markus Spiske

“How do you know?” is a powerful question. We need to ask it often. But what happens when it is asked of you?

You make a proposal. You argue that it is the best action to take. Your CEO or CFO asks how you know it’s the best step. How do you answer so that you leave no room for doubt about your belief?

In his book Poke The Box, Seth Godin tells about Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician who practiced in the 1800s. He noticed that poor hygiene by doctors, particularly not washing their hands, was a significant cause of disease and death.

The medical community rejected his observation. For one, he didn’t do the work to explain his findings. The science was silent. Second, he was a jerk. He responded to rejection with accusation rather than conversation. He blamed the community for their disbelief in him. 

(To one doctor, he wrote “You have been a partner in this massacre).”

When There Is Nothing Left To Do But To Confess Our Guilt

We get to a place where we just want people to trust us. It’s so much easier. It is because I said it is, and you should know me well enough to believe me.

We become like Ignaz. Doubt of us stokes our cynicism. We blame the business for not getting it. We are guilty of resignation instead of persuasion.

Have you noticed how everyone is watching their back while looking you in the eyes? 

I might trust you. And I have any number of people I wish would trust me but they do not; so you may not get the liberty of my trust - I have to answer for your actions. Tell me how you know.

It’s a dance with a lot of toes stepped on. But I need to recognize that a great source of resistance is based on me not making the case. 

The One Surefire Way To Make Your Case

Everyone else is doing it.

It pains me to write that. I’m a rebel, a contrarian, an entrepreneur, a leader of the way, not a follower of the status quo. And….

One of our members recently asked his mastermind group for some help. He explained the situation he was in, and said “I believe I have the solution. I just need to know if you all do this too so that I can make my case.”

He was brilliant to ask. Every member present affirmed his solution and explained why they did the same thing.

Imagine his confidence in making the proposal to his CEO. Imagine his ability to say, “And 9 other CIOs in my group, all leaders of successful companies, did this for these reasons.”

Trusted Insight

Trust is defined as the ability to rely on. 

You have no greater source to rely on than a diverse group of peers. And no greater source to point to when making your case. Every other source - education, vendors, articles - is subject to accusations of bias.

Multiple peers, with no agenda other than explaining their own experience, have no such bias.

Insight is the application of knowledge. Not only is something worth trying, it has been tried elsewhere, with the benefit of positive and negative feedback to incorporate. 

I occasionally run into a CIO who says they don’t have time for a peer group. To which I say, with the time the group will save you, you will have time. And with the amount of money they will save you, you will have funding for what you need to get done.

One of my favorite axioms is “Get as many fingerprints on the smoking gun as possible.” It speaks to not only protecting yourself from shouldering all the blame; it goes to leveraging as many brilliant and unbiased minds as possible to foster a great action.

Pretty clear when you think about it. It’s one thing for a CEO or CFO to resist you. You are one perspective. It’s another to resist a number of leaders who agree with you, who have done it, and who benefit from it. 


Who do you group with? That are unbiased? That you can rely on? That can make your case for you?

You know where I am going with this - it’s why CIO Mastermind Peer Advisory Groups have a perfect retention rate after five years. I’m supportive of any organization that provides you with a great community. You still might want to check us out.

And trust me, we won’t blame you for the massacre.

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