How many bosses have you worked under who fit those characteristics? The business section of the Friday and Sunday New York Times posts interview with CEO’s: In a series of softball questions, all are asked about their backgrounds, their views on how the organization was developed, what their role is since they became CEO, company culture, hiring practices, etc.
Some of the interviews are informative and insightful. Many answers show good business sense. But far too many describe in suspect terms a culture of thoughtful hiring, nurturing, collaborative training and the right to make mistakes. Some CEO’s say things like “Mistakes are good, we all learn from them,” or, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not exercising creativity and being innovative,” or, “We give every employee a chance to succeed and help them along the way.”
Back To the Real World Look up at the headline of this story again. How many bosses who have supervised you fit this description? Conversely, did you manage with an open mind? Did you do a good job of managing up to superiors and a less-than-adequate performance of managing down to subordinates?
I asked a friend the last question, and she said, “Doesn’t everybody?”
Frederick Douglass stated that “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Do you agree with that, or do you sponsor subordinates and give them raises and promotions without them begging or threatening to leave?
If you haven’t read any of these CEO interviews, give a few the once over. Some are likely available on the NY Times web site.
Biting Cynicism. Friends and current and past business associates, many of whom have held executive, including CEO, positions find most of these interviews hilarious. Read on.
“Where is this company Shangri La? I never saw anything like that, most of my experiences, whether I was CEO or not, was in snake pits.”
“Where does this person find all those good people? Is there a personnel heaven that I missed? Maybe I was a lousy recruiter, but at least one-third of the people I hired didn’t work out, another third were mediocre, and the rest were okay, sort of.”
“Yeah, you’re lucky on your best days to find one out of ten who could become a star. Then they’re often a prima donna, or they stay a few months and move on for more money.”
“As someone said, ‘the moment you become a senior executive is the last time you will hear the truth from your subordinates.’ “
“The under-30 geeks always get bored. You’ve got to keep moving them around so they don’t jump ship, and that’s a pain.”
“If you happen to have some good people, some other manager in the company is always trying to steal them.”
“My door was always open, but no one dared come in.”
“I kept mine closed to keep the bitching down. Let ’em bitch to each other or to my reports. That’s what I’m paying them for.”
“Like in the Army, if they’re not complaining something’s wrong.”
“Look at Jobs and Bezos. I don’t think either one of them was known as Mr. Compassion.”
“I guess I was an autocrat for the most part because some tyrant was on my back to make impossible numbers. All we did was peck.”
“And the loyalty of people working for you is skin deep. If they sense you’re in trouble they look around to suck up to the person who’ll be their next boss.
“The last place I worked, the owner-CEO bragged on an enduring company culture, enduring my behind. He had a little clique, and if you weren’t in, you were out. I wasn’t in, now I’m out.”
“A lot of bosses hoard information and mete it out as it suits their purposes. Keep everybody wondering and guessing is a way small people try to hang on to power.”
“No one’s around long enough to build a company culture, unless you mean those waiting to exercise stock options. They can’t wait to exercise them and bail.”
“I like the interviews in the Times, makes me feel good all over. Jeez, I’d love to work in Utopia, maybe when I’m dead.”
“I had a good boss once, well, for a while. Then some people in the company went after me, and he hung me out to dry to save himself. Then they saw he was weak and went after him, too, and he was fired.”
“There’s always cheerful, problem-solving meetings in these ideal companies. Does anybody work?” “I was Exec. VP in my last job, held a little meeting in the conference room. My boss walked in and said, ‘What the hell’s going on here. The company’s in the sewer and you guys are sitting around talking about it rather than fixing it. Let’s get off our duffs and get back to work.’ Whatever authority picture I had, which wasn’t much, was flushed.” “Why can’t the Times interview some of these CEO’s employees and get the real scoop?”
“I’d hate for people who work for me to be candid. I’m sure a lot of them would like to shoot me.”
“Or, they’d admit they wanted your job and would kill for it.”
“Sure, just like I was after my boss’s job, and this time I got it. He screwed me, and I screwed him back.”
“At least half the jobs don’t work out, like personal relationships. Half the people get divorced, and most of the rest aren’t all that happy.”
“Jobs at any level are like that: the courtship; maybe live together; get engaged; get married; the honeymoon; the diminishing hormone thing; disappointment; disenchantment; separation; divorce.”
“Charlie, you should be a writer.”
“I am, but nobody but me reads it.”
Open-Mouthed. I don’t want to call my friends and business associates cynical or bitter. And, of course, they’re overdoing the fun-making. However, working in any business setting, big company or small, is stressful game-playing to varying degrees.
A friend came from long years of trying to make, or in some cases make up, numbers in the private sector to a university in an administrative position. Shortly after he arrived the provost asked him in a meeting, “You’re new here, tell me, why is this university so political?”
“Because there’s so little to lose.” It took him a long time to recover from that smart-mouth answer. Einstein said something like the essence of maturity is learning to keep your mouth shut.
“When you work for somebody, you’re always two steps from the door.” -Hubie Brown, former NBA coach and now a shrewd NBA television analyst
Business Insights, Quality Intent, Discussion Topics: What are you doing in your company to make it friendly, supportive, free of fear and recrimination? Is your company an environment that emphasizes, “Who’s wrong,” or “What’s wrong?” Are workers blamed for all mistakes? Or do you understand that over 90% of errors are system-based and need fixing by management? Is there a procedure through which workers can report problems without fear of retribution or becoming the issue.?
Drive out fear is Point Eight in quality legend W. Edwards Deming’s 14 Points for Management? Is that part of your company’s working philosophy? Look up Deming’s 14 Points and consider using them to build a new company direction or refine an existing one.
Are you as cynical about business as the women and men who commented above on the Times‘ CEO interviews? Would it be worthwhile to review some of the comments with your managers? Would it also be useful to analyze some of the Times’ interviews with people who report to you? Do these articles make you examine your own managerial skills? Are you able to change? (Notice I didn’t say for the better.)
Managing Internal and External Customers. Everybody in your organization is a customer and has at least one and usually many customers within the organization. The chief personnel officer, for example, has numerous customers. Marketing services is a customer of sales representatives and vice versa. Everybody in the organization is a customer of the CEO. Employment is a power game. How do you handle your power over internal customers? That attitude probably reflects the way you treat customers you are selling to or servicing outside the organization?
“Power always thinks it has a great soul.” -John Adams