Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How to Become a Chief Executive

If you want to learn how to be a chief executive, ask someone who’s done the job. Yesterday, Fay Vincent, former CEO of Columbia Pictures, former executive vice-president of Coca-Cola and former Commissioner of Major League Baseball offered some advice for those who want to rise in the corporate ranks.

If you have ever held a high executive position, much of the advice might seem banal. If you aspire to such a position, you do well to start mastering some of the leadership habits Vincent identifies.

The behaviors that Vincent identifies are function-specific. They show how regulate your behavior according to title and responsibility. They have nothing to do with doing what you love or loving what you do. And they have nothing to with self-fulfillment, self-actualization or even self-flourishing.

It is worth underscoring, because no one else will, that very few therapists, even those who are the most positive about positive psychology, define their treatment goals in this way.

If you think that psychoanalysis will teach you how to function as a chief executive, you are suffering from some very serious misapprehensions about how the world works or about psychoanalysis or, most likely, both.

According to Vincent, if you want to be a chief executive and to exercise corporate leadership, you must first recognize that you are constantly being observed. 

If a therapist, for example, wants you to stop worrying about how you look to other people, he is consigning you to middle management, at best. People who do not care about how they look to others tend to belong to lower social classes. The fewer people who are looking up to them the less they need to worry about their effect on other people.

Therapists like to talk about getting in touch with your feelings and expressing them freely, but they are really inducing you to get in touch with your inner prole.

Imitating the habits of people who belong to lower classes will not-- D. H. Lawrence notwithstanding-- help you to get in touch with your inner vitality and suppressed lust. It will make you depressed and cause you to lose your desire.

Of course, therapists do not know that that is what they are doing. Thus, they deserve forgiveness.

According to Vincent, to become a great chief executive you should watch what you say and do.

The higher you rise on the corporate hierarchy the more your words are seen as coming from the company, not from the depths of your soul. People will interpret everything you say, so don’t make glib remarks that might be misinterpreted.

Second, the higher you are the more people are watching you. They are not watching you to see what you are doing wrong, but to take cues from you behavior.

Don’t think about whether you are being authentic; think of what will happen to the company if everyone decides that he needs to express his feelings openly and honestly. It’s a formula for chaos.

Third, it’s not just your employees who are watching you. If you are the leader of a large company, your behavior will be examined by the larger public, not for what it says about your childhood, but for what it says about your company.

In Vincent’s words:

Never do or say anything that you would be unhappy to see written about on a newspaper front page. In dealing with the media, avoid answering hypothetical questions, remember that the microphone is never really off, and never agree to speak "off the record." 

He adds:

One fascinating aspect of life for an executive in the public eye is that there are so few ways to learn the art of a graceful style. There is no privacy either. But there are rewards and one is generally well paid for the limitations imposed. The media are always watching, and any small misstep in your personal life can be distorted. Those who assume a public leadership role can expect harsh treatment when things go wrong. If things go well, the media's silence should be gratefully accepted.

If your PR people have not told you this, fire them.

Fourth, let everyone know that you are watching out for them. You want your staff to know that you care about them, that you respect them, that you value their contribution and that you listen to what they have to say.

It doesn’t mean that you should share intimate secrets. It does mean that you should be polite and decent to other people. If you are rude to your staff they will undoubtedly repay the disfavor.


Memphis Steve said...

I've read a lot of articles and blog posts in my time, but I think this is possibly the most useful information I have encountered in years. I very much appreciate you writing this.

Anonymous said...

I like what you said Stuart: “It doesn’t mean that you should share intimate secrets. It does mean that you should be polite and decent to other people.” I look at it this way. How should we treat other people in either our private or public lives? Should we act like we are in private or in our public lives?

It is my opinion that we ought to act towards people (whether it is in private or public relationships) the way we are in public. In our public lives we are more often kind, honest, friendly, etc. However, in our private lives there seems to be more of a tendency to be mean, duplicitous, sneaky, etc.

Dennis said...

There is a reality here that one should consider. You CANNOT make people do or take acts they are not predisposed to do. It is surprising how quickly they will find ways to undermine a person who lacks the requisite skills of leadership.
People are a resource who have a stake in their success as well as in yours especially if you recognize their talents and effectively provide the wherewithal for them to succeed.
I always considered that if I had to tell someone what to do other than in the normal give and take of accomplishing the mission of the organization then I had something that was remiss and needed to be addressed.
There is a reason why those who possess the leadership skills to make things happen are so valued.