Brandt On Leadership -- VPs Unite! It's Cushy Job Vs. Pushy Upstart

Oct. 11, 2005
Imagine a boss who wants performance, not PowerPoints. It's ugly.

Fellow VPs, I'll get right to the point: Tulley -- our fair-haired peer, the CEO's flavor of the month -- has gone off the deep end. In the space of a week the man has become a menace to our reputations, to our careers, and to our expense accounts. His reckless performance during last week's four-day executive retreat -- held, I might add, at the Coronado de Coronado Luxe Inn & Resort on my recommendation to the Big Guy, thank you very much -- has put every one of us at risk. Tulley must be destroyed, now, by any means possible.

Some of you may not know Tulley, and consequently what I'm suggesting may seem harsh, especially if you weren't at the 2006 North American District Area Strategic Alliance Planning Summit (NADA SAPS) last week. But there are standards that must be upheld -- precepts, protocols and commandments that have served us and our VP brethren at companies around the world for decades -- and Tulley violated every single one of them. Let me count the ways:

Thou Shalt Not Confuse a Strategic Retreat With an Actual Working Meeting: No work has ever been completed at an executive retreat. Ever. We come to BS, we come to play golf, we come for a chance to kiss the Big Guy's patootie -- but we sure as hell don't come expecting to have a Eureka! moment about the business. Everyone knows this, just as certainly as we know that there's always a meeting before the meeting -- and that if you weren't invited to the pre-meeting, it doesn't matter what you say at the "real" meeting. Everyone, of course, except Tulley. I can still hear that screechy little voice: "If everything was decided a month ago, what's the point of dragging everybody here and spending all this money?" Honestly, if the Big Guy hadn't been nodding in agreement, I'd have shoved Tulley's Cohiba right down his throat. Smoke that, Choir Boy!

Thou Shalt Prepare a PowerPoint Appropriate to the Occasion: The one thing that we do make sure of at a retreat is that we have good presentations. Our ideas may not be new, but man, check out the graphics. There is no higher praise than to hear one of your fellow VPs gasp: "I didn't know you could do that with PowerPoint!" Sure these presentations eat up time and resources like a plague of steroid-crazed locust, but the Big Guy seems to like them, and besides, what are assistants and minions for, anyway? At least I thought the Big Guy liked them, until Tulley pulled that stunt last week. Assigned the same two-hour death-march slot as the rest of us, Tulley shows up with no assistant, no PowerPoint deck and a single-sheet handout. My honest first thought? I didn't need the Cohiba after all; the man was about to commit career suicide all by his lonesome.

Thou Shalt Not Show Up Thy Fellow VP: Shows what I know. Because before you can say "Where's my limo" Tulley stands up and says, "I know we're supposed to explain how we'll grow our division next year. So here's my presentation." He then points to the single-sheet handout, which turns out to be a copy of an $8 million purchase order: $8 million, in a company where most divisions are $4 million max. While we were cozied up around our computers, Tulley sandbagged us by hitting the road until he found a customer who wanted to buy something. Worst of all, though, is what happened next: Tulley walked out of the room! I turned to look at the Big Guy, and he was smiling like a kid on Christmas morn. It's then that I realized: This year, Tulley had the meeting before the meeting, not us.

I'm telling you, this is big trouble. Unless we can stop Tulley, we'll all be expected to hit the road in search of $8 million purchase orders, instead of the retreats we do best.

What'll we do then?

John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute, a research and consulting firm based in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

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