I read an interesting article recently in which the author, a seasoned business consultant and attorney, referred to half of all the CEO’s out there as being “below average”. There were no studies cited, no research statistics offered, and no indication of what “average” is, was, or has been. The article offered one example of a high-profile CEO who was fired three months after his initial hire date for failing to produce profits commensurate with his salary! Was this something the company did not realize when they hired him?
How do we measure the quality of our Chief Executive? Do we only work with those who come with a demonstrable track record of success? Do they know how to make money? Are they good with people? Do they have clear vision? Are they skilled facilitators, mentors, directors and growth mongers? Can they build a sales team, create a marketing plan and implement operational strategy? Are their values clear, is their mission strong and does their very presence in the boardroom exude integrity?
If the answer to these questions is a resounding “YES”, you haven’t found a CEO; you’ve found Superman or Wonder Woman. I work daily with CEO’s. Lot’s of them. In fact, the foundation of my consulting practice is CEO skill development and strategic planning which puts me in direct one-on-one contact with these high-level power brokers. My experience often leaves me wondering why anyone would want to take on this extremely complex, thankless, unforgiving and emotionally draining task. The CEO’s I know work incredibly long hours, take all the company problems home, directly answer client complaints, smooth over human resource issues, answer to profit driven BOD’s, and at the end of the day, offer everyone else the credit for company accomplishment.
The CEO position is also the most tenuous position in the organization. Anyone who has been around for more than a minute knows that founding owners, managing boards and Chairman don’t make mistakes. It’s always the CEO who goes; the CEO who ultimately takes the fall or pays the price for poor company performance. So why do they do it?
The CEO’s I know can’t walk in a room and not be a leader. They are driven to accomplishment, goal and task. They are deeply committed, driven to personal and organizational excellence, focused on the strategic vision of their industry and organization. Are they perfect? Not a chance. Ego driven? Absolutely. Difficult to please, often argumentative, aggressive, and in many cases abrasive to those closest to them? Yes. Should we accept this kind of behavior? No. But we also need to take the time to understand where the behavior emanates from.
To cite an example, one of my clients recently took on the CEO role of a high growth, seemingly successful $50 million-dollar manufacturing company. Once inside, she realized that the reason the profits were so outstanding is that the previous owners had never provided for the appropriate infrastructure to maintain quality in production
The Board of Directors now are second guessing their choice for CEO as my client has recommended a major and costly reorganization to support quality in process. Couple this with the normal fair of several employee related legal claims against previous management, a management team in transition, a cash flow shortage and yes, you may be dealing with someone whose fuse is pretty short.
While the tender of success in the workplace is measured in dollars I find it hard to judge a CEO negatively simply because they negotiate the strongest personal compensation package possible. I often ask skeptics a simple question when I am queried about the validity of a client’s compensation package; “Compared to what?” Even professional compensation specialists have a difficult time agreeing on CEO compensation as the points of reference are as varied as the individual needs of the organization.
I want to be clear that I am not condoning poor performance nor am I suggesting that there are not compensation plans out there that cross into the land of absurdity. I am saying that we need to take a long hard look at the men and women who have the courage to take on these high-profile positions. Hopefully when we do, we will see leaders we can be proud to follow, leaders we can trust to do the right thing, and leaders that will promote the health and well being of American business.
Ed Jenks is the author of CEO Point Blank and CSO for The Jenks Group, Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com