Wonderful guy, TERRIBLE Leader

When I got hired at a “new” company I immediately feared that i would regret the decision.  I when I got into the company I immediately felt as if I was the teacher and the CEO was the student.  Now as anyone that knows me will tell you this might be the norm for me, but in this case it was special.  Bill is one of the most gregarious and outwardly caring men that I have been around.  His energy and passion is genuine, fun, engaging and lacks direction.

As an old friend of mine once said:

“Like a bottle rocket without a stick, all over the place” – Pat Shaw.

At first glance, “new” company was structured legally like the real deal.  It was a C-Corp, had a Board of Directors and the management team was sound.  The product was actually awesome and the development team tight and organized. Understand that all organizations have rough spots and this was expected.

The one thing that I could never see was the corrosion underneath.  

The management team professionally hated the CEO.  None of them would stand up and admit it at the risk hurting his feelings. I said he was such a nice guy.  The CEO’s micromanagement was something of an art form. Combine that with constant conjecture, irrational personal spending and an insatiable desire to be liked and you end up with subtle, almost invisible, chaos.

It was not all bad, I truly enjoyed the personal time spent with him, he and I had so much in common personally it actually scared me, considering I may be more alike professionally and not know it.  As far as micromanagement, The CEO pretty much left me alone and gave me a wide berth to work.  As VP of Industrial Solutions I had my own area to work since no one at the company had any idea about Industrial Control Systems.  This is really where I should have stayed and focused all of my energy and my personal happiness would of been much greater.

I first figured that there wasn’t much I could learn in an environment like this but it seems as if life always presents you with learning opportunities.  My father used to tell me that “you don’t usually learn much when you do something right, it the mistakes that make you better.”  In this case I feel like I should be in the presence of a Master.  Yet making mistakes doesn’t inherently foster learning, especially if you don’t admit you were at fault.

I think that leader = at fault regardless of the situation.  I take this approach when I am dealing with employees, coworkers and most relationships.  I believe that it if you focus on how you make people feel you are better equipped to resolve issues.  The enormous responsibility of leadership even if only recognized subconsciously changes how normal people respond to simple situations. One very poor tactic for dealing with this is extreme micromanagement.  This is how this company was run.  Employees were paralyzed by the CEO since he would never allow them to make a decision and belittle any attempts to do so.  To top that effect the employees also got the blame for when things went wrong.  This is a no win scenario for all involved and one should ask, why do the employees stay?  Well interestingly enough even though the CEO was a terrible leader and the employees openly admitted both that he was professionally a tyrant but personally he was very gregarious and unusually likable person. They actually knew his personality traits better than the CEO himself, and like scolded children of poor parents tolerated the constant conjecture of the emotional decision making and suffered fraudulent punishment.  Yet remain due to an unforeseen loyalty to the CEO for his personal interaction.  This is a strong case study for both emotionally abused individuals in the workplace.


In less than 3 months of working together, here are twenty lessons I learned “The CEO”.

  1. Stop making excuses for your behavior, emotional leadership combined with a sense of entitlement is viewed as tyranny.
  2. Everyone on the team matters. No one deserves to be treated poorly.
  3. Leaders create an emotional climate with their attitudes and behaviors.
  4. The higher up you are, the more people “read into” everything you say and do. Stuff gets amplified as it moves downstream.
  5. A word of encouragement can literally make someone’s week. Conversely, a harsh word can ruin it.
  6. Providing positive feedback in a group is allowed, negative feedback is always one on one.
  7. Hire the right people then trust them to do their job.
  8. Don’t ever intentionally embarrass people in front of their boss, their peers, or their direct reports.
  9. Don’t attack people personally. Instead, focus on their performance.
  10. Get both sides of the story before you take action.
  11. Tell the truth; then you don’t have to remember what you said.
  12. Give people room to fail and don’t rub their noses in it when they do.
  13. Be quick to forgive and give the benefit of the doubt.
  14. Measure twice, cut once  – more accurately take time to weigh your choices before reacting.
  15. Don’t ever ask your people to do something you are unwilling to do yourself.
  16. Respect other people’s time, especially those under you.
  17. Don’t believe all the nice things people say about you.
  18. Follow-through on your commitments, even when it is inconvenient or expensive.
  19. Don’t be ambitious to make more money. Instead, focus on serving and doing a great job.
  20. Be responsive to everyone at every level. You never know who may be your next boss.
  21. Keep confidences. Make no exceptions.
  22. Do not complain about your boss to anyone who is not part of the solution. If you can’t keep from complaining, then have the integrity to quit.

All of these things in mind these are just leadership principals that when read seem obvious, however you will seldom find management that actually adheres to them.

All of these things being said, it’s not like I sat by idly and watched this all unfold.  From day one I started coaching the CEO on some of his shortcomings, and it was immediately noticed.  No more than two weeks of being in the organization I had two senior managers tell me to keep up whatever I’m doing and the CEO has made huge strides in improving the direction and vision of the company.  He’s even listening a little more.  Being in this situation before I responded with “Thanks, but you better take advantage of this I am sure that it’s temporary.  Bad leaders are like bad golfers, as soon as they get a small distraction they immediately go back to their bad habits.”.  And no more than a breath and a couple of months later I saw it happen first hand.  Simple things matter, the first couple of months that I was there the CEO was engaged in meeting and attentive to most opinions.  It looked like we were seeing change.  Now for me this was the normal since it had been what I came onboard.  Yet other managers told me that it was extremely unusual for him to allow anyone else to speak.  Gradually I started noticing him become distracted in meetings.  Interestingly enough it began with the women in the company.  If you paid attention when one of the women managers began to speak he’s start looking at his phone and checking his email.  He was not even discreet about it! Most meetings he would be the presenter for the overhead projector.  He would actually start reading and even replying to personal emails with all of us watching while individuals were speaking to the group.  The most annoying aspect was that he had a property with digital cameras.  He would always check the “movement alerts” immediately.  Even in customer meetings.  I may be guilty of being distracted in meetings but since my experiences here, I have committed to 100% focus to each speaker.  Most times he would mentally wander off for 20 -30 minutes playing with his phone.  And suddenly interrupt with “I’ve internationally sat back and listened to you guys for a while and….  what you don’t get is that…. this is the way this should work… and REPEAT WHAT WAS SAID almost verbatim!   This happened 100% of the time and was so comical that the employees would with laugh or groan internally.

I took the time to very tactfully mention these things to him and it was always brushed away with the comment “These people just don’t get it…”  I never had the energy to ask “Get what?”.

to be continued…..

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