Brandt On Leadership -- Limber Up For Extreme Executive Sports

June 10, 2007
A degree from Harvard is worthless if you can't compete in these games.

Is your career in shape? If not, it's time to start training for the Executive Olympics -- a series of events that will test your readiness to be a warrior on the road and a player on mahogany row. Here's a sampler of what you'll face in this Corporate Decathlon:

Airport Dash: A rugged examination of skills in planning, organization and multitasking, the event begins in the contestant's own home at 4:30 a.m., where he or she will pack for a three-day trip in complete darkness so as not to wake spouse (points are deducted for excessive noise, such as swearing after stubbing toe on door frame). Contestant will then have 25 minutes to complete a 37-mile drive to the airport around construction barrels, while at the same time checking voicemail on a cell phone and responding to e-mails on a Blackberry (bonus points available for listening to an iPod or MP3 player at the same time). Contestant who reaches the airport (alive) with correct underwear first is the winner.

TSA Hurdles: In this companion event to the airport dash, jittery, sweating executives worried about making their flights find themselves at the end of a snaking TSA security line behind a tour group of senior citizens heading to Las Vegas. Competitors are judged not only on the speed with which they dismantle and then reassemble their own wardrobes and carry-on bags, but also on composure as every single retiree ahead of them asks in turn: "Why do I have to take my shoes off?" For added reality, security process will vary dramatically from one airport to another as TSA staff become indignant when executives can't remember non-existent "national procedure."

Customer Biathlon: A combined event that requires executives to visit 17 clients in two days while presenting a nearly worthless line extension. Contestants are judged on enthusiasm (Bill, you're going to love the Widget 5180x), capacity for chit-chat obscuring lack of 5180x innovation (Ah, enough about business, Bill. How's the wife?) and resilience in the face of rejection (Bill, what exactly do you mean when you say, "Get the hell out of my office and never come back again?"). Triple bonus points for actually selling a 5180x.

Meeting Marathon: In this critical event, contestants are led into a conference room and then forced to watch Smith from Legal bumble his way through a 278-slide PowerPoint on the supply-chain ramifications of Sarbanes-Oxley (including pro formas of relevant tax considerations). A panel of judges will rate each contestant on:

  • Focus: Ability to sit still in warm, darkened room with eyes open for three full hours.
  • Style: Quality of feigned interest; requires asking at least three questions (and listening to answers).
  • Endurance: Stamina in managing digestive distress consequent to drinking half-gallon of day-old coffee and eating two stale Danish from previous meeting.
  • Restraint: Success in stopping self from standing up and beating Smith to death with his own laser pointer.

UBFC (Ultimate Budget Fighting Competition): Mixed corporate martial arts competition in which 25 combatants are placed in a caged cubicle farm, yet only one can emerge with a $1 million discretionary budget increase (all other contestants will lose $1 million in budget). Lying, cheating, stealing, gossiping, backstabbing and fudged financials are all allowed, but each contestant must remain outwardly polite at all times or risk disqualification. Match will be refereed by senior executives, none of whom understand what is going on but all of whom will help or hinder various contestants at random.

Are you ready to go for the gold?

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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