The Monday Morning Meeting.
“I’m responsible for this company. I stand behind the results. I know the details, and I think the CEO has to be the moral leader of the company…” — Jeffery Immelt, CEO of General Electric.
8:58 A.M rolls around and the last few employees wander into the conference room to get ready for the big meeting. As the fluorescent lights hum above and groups of people walk from one hallway to the next with sheets of paper in tow, the atmosphere in this building is different than what normally constitutes for air.
The air is thick with tension, anxiety, and fear…yes, fear is the number-one-factor driving emotions this quarter. Everyone from the lowest office-drones to the ones who hold fancy acronyms in upper-management are feeling the same creeping dread. Everyone is thinking it but nobody wants to admit it: Azure Sky Marketing Solutions is a dead company walking.
From the early startup years to the past five years of accelerated growth, the relatively young marketing-agency is at risk of being shut down for good. After losing several clients due to poor resource allocation, accounting mistakes, and a digital-course which cost the company several millions of dollars in lost revenue due to a scripting error, it’s time for a new beginning — a breakthrough, if you will. A breakthrough that will not only save Azure Sky but the 450 employees milling between the main office and the satellite office.
The CEO needs to establish a new direction if the company is going to continue to win.
All the other twenty pairs of eyes in the room lock onto the CEO — a woman by the name of Juanita Juarez-Roscoe — standing at the end of the table. She stands in front of a dry-erase-board and waits for the last few remaining stragglers to be seated. As she gives them all a look that says ‘these next few meetings will be do or die,’ a sense of calm pervades her. ‘I’ve been here before,’ she says to herself. ‘Not at this level but I’m sure we can claw our way out of this pit.’
She’s dressed in a business-casual-outfit; black slacks and a professional-blouse covered with a jacket. Her ebony sky and long, dark curls reflect off the conference-room-lights — lights which only seem to hum harder as the seconds tick by. Beads of sweat trickle down the faces of the audience. Somebody coughs. Everyone looks at her expectantly.
Her eyes change from anxious to fierce — the same ferocity which allowed to build her business for the last fifteen years — and she lifts a dry-erase-marker to the board.
“Ladies and gentlemen…shall we begin?”
The Pursuit of Perfection.
“When you play the game of thrones, you either win or you die. There is no middle ground.” — Game of Thrones, Season One, Episode Seven.
Many academic studies have been done on what constitutes the best in leadership and how leaders maintain success. On the other side of the coin, we may think it’s quite simple. We gaze into the glass cathedrals and university-sized-campuses and think it has to be rudimentary; all a good CEO has to do is show up to work, get company developments done by any means necessary, hold boring, generic meetings on things that won’t be decided on six months from now, and repeat this process ad-nauseum for however long they wish to remain the head boss.
That is one element to the puzzle but it contains many more elements than that.
One archetype that moves to the front is the classic ‘ruthless, arrogant jerk’ archetype; this type of CEO has no problem belittling his employees, controlling dissent by termination, and generally raising almighty hell when things aren’t going smoothly — as smooth as things can go for any Fortune 500 company. You can look at some of the household names in tech companies — such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk — and find instances where they deploy almost insane levels of thinking and control.
In the early days of Microsoft, Bill Gates once monitored when employees came and went. It is also well known that Steve Jobs had no problem harassing candidates in job interviews. Musk’s SpaceX came under fire two years ago for not paying employees what their hours were due. All these events almost create a universe where this type of behavior is not only expected but reinforced.
You can disregard these claims and behaviors as ‘the nature of business’ and a ‘winner’s mindset’ but business-analysts, tech-analysts, and psychologists use these instances to highlight why the same traits, stories, and behaviors tend to crop up in people running some of the world’s biggest companies. Not only do these people pursue excellence in their company, they tend to pursue it out of necessity — if they don’t push and motivate their workers to achieve whatever goals the company is striving for, then they risk being overtaken by the companies who do adopt that mindset.
This isn’t to say they all aspire for their company to end like the next Enron — where hiding actual revenue and deals behind closed doors led to bankruptcy and fallout — but the ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality is something that has to be adopted by those wanting to thrive in the cutthroat-business-universe.
So what separates the all-time-greats from those who may only last a year or two? What about the would-be-CEO’s who start companies? Are they all cut from this same cloth?
Or is there something more?
The One Who Makes the Gears Turn.
The more than two decades we’ve spent advising boards, investors, and chief executives themselves on CEO transitions, we have seen a fundamental disconnect between what boards think makes for an ideal CEO and what actually leads to high performance. That disconnect starts with an unrealistic yet pervasive stereotype, which is shaped in large part by the official bios of Fortune 500 leaders.
It holds that a successful CEO is a charismatic six-foot-tall white man with a degree from a top university, who is a strategic visionary with a seemingly direct-to-the-top career path and the ability to make perfect decisions under pressure. — Elena Lytkena Botelho, Kim Rosenkoetter Powell, Stephen Kincaid, Dina Wang. May-June 2017 Harvard Business Review.
Research is emerging that a ‘strong, silent-type’ CEO can prove to be beneficial for a company. Instead of verbal sparring and a harassment-prone culture, a head-boss which figures out to adopt Theodore Roosevelt’s motto of ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’ can prove to work wonders when the going gets tough. Being able to hear and understand concerns of employees, consumers, and investors without flying off the handle or going in irrational directions.
In the aforementioned link, Hal Gregersen — the chief director for MIT’s Leadership Center — studied CEO’s for ten years and found that the ability to quietly listen and understand concerns instead of ignoring them — or cutting them — made a huge difference in company culture. He found this listening ability was present even among those who had a reputation for being fiery — most notably Steve Jobs.
Others — like those present in Forbes Coaches Council — maintain the same sentiment; many express how the ones who end up winning are those who fight on the company’s front lines and adopt an everyone wins mentality that seeks for everyone to benefit when the company is on the right track. The ability to make tough decisions under pressure and having a vision to prepare for the company’s future was also present — but the ability to establish long-term relationships with clients and holding their trust was the biggest part.
A good example of this are the steps Howard Schulz — Starbucks founder and CEO — took when his company faced back-to-back months of plummeting sales a good number of years after he stepped down.
When he stepped back into the limelight as the head-boss, not only did he ask customers what they enjoyed the most about Starbucks — he also made the decision to close 600 stores that weren’t performing up to standard. The cherry on top was shutting down every single store for three hours in February of 2008; the impetus being all employees needed to be trained on how to make a great espresso drink.
The short-term-losses for long-term-gains proved to work. Although Starbucks stock continued to drop during the recession, the company bounced back from around $4 a share to $29 by April of 2012.
‘Ignore the Competition.’
“I’m stunned by how many CEO’s and leaders want to throw other people under the bus.” — Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of Vaynermedia.
Attention to detail…
Ability to motivate…
…and so on.
You can point to any list of adjectives that will crop up if you search for information on the traits a good CEO contains. Numerous synonyms for these adjectives will also appear and give you an encyclopedia definition of what to look for; the only thing missing may be a picture.
One interesting theory is the people who maintain dominance in the marketplace are those who operate on offense instead of defense. In working with Silicon Valley companies before venturing into her own, Lisa Yu observed that the companies and leaders who thrive usually adopt the same drive found in high-profile athletes.
Not only do the companies refuse to operate out of fear or negligence but they are always changing to suit the market’s needs. CEO’s are not only obsessed with learning, coaching, and studying their craft; they are also obsessed with providing value they find lacking in other companies. The same way a football-coach crafts a scheme to beat an opponent is the same way a CEO can win or lose in the long term.
It seems that playing long-term chess instead of short-term-checkers may be the key to getting ahead in the marketplace.
The Return to the Monday Morning Meeting.
“It is not human nature to be great. It is human nature to survive, to be average and do what you have to do to get by.” — Nick Saban, six-time-national-championship-college-football-coach.
When Juanita Juarez-Roscoe finishes the last few points she wants to make in the meeting, the employees disperse from the conference room. Some of them aren’t convinced the company will make it out alive but they are convinced they should try anyway. Others possess newfound vigor — as if Juanita handed them an elixir containing her own special bend of determination. They leave the conference room and the fluorescent lights above continue to hum — although a little softer than they did two hours ago. The clock on the wall reaches 11:30. An early lunchtime soon approaches.
Juanita gets on her laptop and makes a few quick notes on her calendar. The second meeting will commence at 12:30 after lunch but food is the last thing on her mind. Last-night’s leftovers — a pork-and-goat-cheese-ravioli-blend — sit in the company fridge unattended.
Her mind races and she plots the next course of action…
…and the mindset of a dominant CEO begins.