CEOs Arent Gods

Dec. 21, 2004
Theyre more like bees.

Take away his or her title, authority, fancy office, executive assistant, perks, cushy stock-option plan, and English-tailored suit, and your average defrocked chief executive is as human as anyone else. CEOs eat, sleep, walk, talk, play, rest, burp, and scratch just like ordinary people. They laugh, smile, smirk, sneeze, yawn, blink, and try to please just like anyone else. They stammer, ponder, putter, slake, hesitate, and think. They celebrate, procrastinate, and pontificate. They do what comes naturally as naturally as anyone. And they find it just as difficult to get through the Pearly Gates. This means, of course, that CEOs are not free of sin or even error. So dont accept every word they speak as Gospel. And dont expect a Sermon on the Mount whenever they speak. CEOs arent gods. They are more like bees. Bees are never as busy as they seem; they just cant buzz any slower. In my 50 years in business publishing, I have met thousands of CEOs. About 50% were descended from parrots; 30% were descended from chickens; and the remaining 20% were descended from God. Some CEOs Ive known made me uncomfortable. Sitting across the desk from them reminded me that man is the only animal who remains on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them. Other CEOs Ive known convinced me that nothing succeeds like failure. A few CEOs Ive known were living proof that dogged persistence is sometimes more valuable than brains. Others were so addicted to exaggeration that they couldnt tell the truth without lying. Now Im quite certain that in judging my performance as a CEO, others have judged me with the same God-like and superior impartiality that I have employed in judging them. Theres nothing we CEOs make more blunders about -- and our employees fewer blunders about -- than in determining our value to our respective companies. We CEOs seem to take our lives too seriously. We tend to think that the universe revolves around us. We believe the Bill of Rights gives us the authority to grade our own examination papers. I know one CEO who is an ulcer with authority. Lots of people would enjoy working for him -- grave diggers, for example. I know another who doesnt have an enemy in the world, yet all his friends hate him. Then there was the CEO who was hired because he was a dreamer. It turned out that he was just a sleeper with a loud snore. And still another whose varicose veins were all that kept him from being colorless. Todays wealth-creating companies require CEOs with the vision to see what others cant, the courage to risk what others wont, and the intelligence and understanding to employ new technologies while others are employing caution. The times require fewer imitators and more innovators, CEOs with fewer "buts" and more guts. Manufacturing companies need top managers with the talent and perseverance to create opportunities where there appear to be none, who think out-of-the-box and find nontraditional solutions to problems that defy conventional solutions, who dare to succeed, and who think with their heads instead of their feet in times of difficulty. Shareholders would rather lasso CEO mavericks than motivate CEO mules. Shareholders would prefer to tame CEO lions than goose CEO mice. According to executive-search-firm professionals, progressive growth-oriented manufacturing companies want CEOs who are aggressive, innovative, and willing to take risks if the potential reward is big enough. They dont want CEOs who are trapped by recommendations and studies and who wont try anything new until they have gathered 100% of the facts. Yet, they also dont want high-rollers, gamblers who will bet the company on a hunch. What they are looking for are CEOs who understand the laws of probability and who know how to assess and play the odds. Because companies that encourage risk are also willing to tolerate occasional failure in order to win a giant jackpot. CEOs dont start their careers as CEOs. Boldness and savvy are discovered in lower-level positions where future CEOs are raised and nurtured. Youll recognize them because, instead of just buzzing around, theyll be filling their mental storehouses with the pollen of ideas. And theyll be spreading it around on as many budding fruit trees as they can find. Companies lucky enough to have them are constantly amazed at how sweet the fruits of their efforts can be. To find them, listen for their distinctive hum. The good ones have that special talent for supplying the busyness to their companys business. Sal F. Marino is chairman emeritus of Penton Publishing Inc. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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