The ageing juvenile lead
As a fan of Judy Garland and Elizabeth Taylor I cannot but admit that juvenile leads are very attractive for the promise they make of a golden future. Many juvenile leads go on to achieve exactly that. We have juvenile leads in business, too. They are usually identified at University, most commonly at Business School, where their ability to put right the wrongs of even the biggest companies in a few hours is a source of wonder and amazement. Job offers proliferate.
Then comes reality. They can weather that, too, for a time. New brooms have a honeymoon during which they can sweep clean. They do much good during their time. They re-focus the business on profits and away from the distractions of Corporate Social Responsibility. They get rid of the old and stuck-in-their-ways employees who are holding things back. New blood comes into the corporate veins to flush them out and ready them for the next onslaught of regulation, digitisation, amalgamation, separation, intimidation. Shareholders applaud their diligence. They get promoted.
By now there will be committees for everything, procedures to make anything from a cake to an acquisition, SOPs to accommodate any envisageable situation. Like clockwork was what the CEO wanted the business to run and like clockwork it is now running. Three things then happen to upset the apple-cart. First a technological, fiscal or political tsunami hits the business. It’s firmly set objectives are disputed. It will have court cases to cope with if it is an American firm, angry Members of Parliament if it is British and Jean-Claude Juncker if it has to do with Europe.
Time-consuming and expensive, this will distract the CEO and his top team from the work they are supposed to do. The second avalanche to hit the business will be a cyber attack on its state of the art, secure internetting. This wasn’t planned for because it could never happen. It may have been a cleaner turning off the power to a vital computer, it may have been clever foreigners with a new version of the Trojan Horse, it may have been self-inflicted. Whatever the cause, there is chaos.
But it is the third disaster that proves to be the most intractable. The CEO seems to be burnt out. The dynamic, robust, visionary-with-an-eye-to-detail maestro can no longer pull the orchestra together. The players do not know where they are going. The word strategy becomes a symbol of failure and is dropped. McKinsey’s are called in. They diagnose a spent CEO and find a younger, fresher candidate who can sweep clean and set the commercial barque on a route to success.
What goes around comes around. This is precisely where they were when the last CEO was appointed. Let us look at the ’spent’ CEO. What happened to his confidence, his vigour and his Business School training? In a word, ‘micromanage’ happened. Why should it? He was taught to delegate, why doesn’t he? He is scared that if he does so, one of his henchmen will seize the initiative and oust him. Well, I have news for him. That is going to happen anyway, only the heaver may be an external consultant. His tenure will be extended if he follows some simple rules.
Get rid of all the processes you can. Some are needed, most are not. Trust your employees. Some will steal from you, most won’t. Get out of your office, it is the repository of dead ideas. Go and see people in their offices. They are breaths of fresh air. Talking to reports two places below you keeps their bosses well on their feet. Cut meetings – the number of them and the length. Insist no meeting lasts more than 50 minutes. Ever. Make meetings fun. Laugh once every eight minutes.
There are several other things that will sustain a CEO longer than he might otherwise survive. However, if you get the micromanage problem cured you are well on the way to success.
Scared to do so? That’s why you will lose your job.
It is also why you deserve to.