Is Your Gatekeeper Holding the Keys To Your Office or Your Kingdom?

"This is great, but we should have started six months ago.”

That statement was said to me by the CEO of a not insignificant Melbourne manufacturing company last week. Mindset has just commenced a large organisational transformation project with them that will see significant cultural and personnel change over the next 12 months. The company has been losing market share and profit dramatically so the CEO is perched precariously on a burning platform.

Let’s analyse his statement.

Mindset cold called him a month ago and started the discussion that led to the project’s commencement, BUT… We had been trying repeatedly to get that meeting for over eight months prior. We were being blocked by his overzealous PA. She screened his emails, his phone calls and mail. We finally made direct contact via social media and got the meeting. The glare the PA gave us as we arrived for our first meeting was priceless.

So, the upshot is we could have commenced the project six months ago if it hadn’t been for the PA. The delay has made the project much more challenging and much more expensive. There’s also now less profit in the company’s accounts to pay for it.

The CEO is now wondering how many other strategic opportunities he has missed out on because his PA thinks she knows what the company, and he, needs better than him.

The moral of this is that many CEOs have similarly overzealous gatekeepers. They go by many names and titles. Operationally they can save a leader significant time, but strategically they can also shield them from opportunities, valuable market information and innovative new suppliers. Often this cost will massively outweigh any perceived administrative benefit.

If you are a CEO with a PA what are you missing out on?

Views: 179

Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 18, 2011 at 9:01pm

If gatekeepers would function like the well trained conduit they should be instead of a blockade on the information highway we would all be better off.  Even the gatekeeper.  He/she might even get credit for calling attention to a solution to a problem and get a pat on the head for doing it.


Excellent post.  I think we are going to see a lot of gatekeeper situations change due to the fact that they somehow thought they became the boss.

Comment by Aaron Dodd on April 18, 2011 at 9:15pm
Thanks Sandra, I'm working up my next blog on how CEOs can deal with the situation. Often they don't even realise it's happening until it's too late. If you have any ideas on solutions I'm all ears.
Comment by Maureen Sharib on April 19, 2011 at 7:37am
This is really interesting stuff and a common sense perspective.  I look forward to more!
Comment by Tim Keene on April 19, 2011 at 8:53am
As someone who works primarily in sales, gatekeepers usually fall into one of 2 categories:  The conduits Sandra mentioned, or the overzealous blockades Aaron is talking about.  The conduit is very useful to both the CEO and the salesperson calling.  I have moved many sales forward by using a gatekeeper as someone who can help me.  I have also been stymied by the ones who wont let me talk to their boss when I have done my research and I know I can be of service to their company.  I think just like any other job, there are people who know what they're doing, and do it the right way, and then there are the rest.
Comment by Randy Alexander on April 19, 2011 at 1:20pm
Of course you feel like the gatekeeper has stymied this project.  Its your project.  For every one like you, there are likely 20+ other cold callers who are trying to get the CEO's ear.  Thankfully for the CEO he has a gatekeeper who saved his time 19 other times.  So this example is probably the exception, not the rule.  The very same CEO has probably praised his trusted gatekeeper for keeping his calendar clear from overzealous sales people.
Comment by Aaron Dodd on April 19, 2011 at 6:04pm
Thanks for the comments guys, there's no easy solution to the over zealous gatekeepers, and of course, not all of them are like that. But, at least here in Australia, there are enough of them to be a genuine concern.
Comment by Greg Savage on April 19, 2011 at 6:11pm

This is a very intereting concept Aaron. I am a 'CEO' but of a very small organisation. Even when running a business 10 times the size of my current one, I never allowed calls to be screened. Yes, you do get inappropriate sales people you have to get rid of, but it keeps you in touch. Candidates with complaints, people with ideas, opportunities you would never otherwise have had. Even now when someone calls me and get put straight through, they often get a shock. Literally "oh I want expecting to actually get to talk to you!"

There is an element of senior people feeling its part of the image to be "hard to contact". Actually I think it smarter to be easy to contact

Comment by Aaron Dodd on April 19, 2011 at 6:29pm
I agree Greg. Many CEOs that I have dealt with over the years seem to have a PA as some sort of status symbol. If they do that they are missing the point. Business has always been about connections and relationships and if you have a filter between yourself and the outside world then you will miss out the good stuff (as well as the bad stuff. It's a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Comment by Valentino Martinez on April 20, 2011 at 12:10am


Fourteen years ago, in the May/June 1997 edition of Hispanic Times magazine--as a contributing Careers Editor, I wrote an article you may find interesting entitled:  “Corporate gatekeepers: how they help and hurt & five sure fire ways to get past them”.

It's accessible at BNET: 

Your blog discussion was deja vu for me--I feel it's even more relevant today.
Comment by Aaron Dodd on April 20, 2011 at 12:13am
Thanks for article Valentino. I shall read with interest!


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