Don’t Be a Clueless CEO

“Please, I need separate checks for our meal.”

That caused me to look up from my menu because I had never heard that before. Our normal routine is that he pays for one lunch/dinner and the next time it is my turn.

So my question to him was, “What was all that about? Last time we met in Bangkok it was your treat, now it is mine, so there was no need for that.”

“Ron, I am sorry. We have a new CEO and he is a maniac. He goes through every expense report and asks questions and inspects receipts.” It is mind boggling the level of time he spends on checking these type things, my friend said.

My next question was, “How many direct reports does he have besides you?” 8, he answered.

My head dropped, and I am thinking, CEO, 8 direct reports and he is checking expense reports. Clueless in large fonts.

My friend is a regional head for a large organization and a true leader; Connected to his team, hangs with his team, and has built a dynamic team. One of his practices is that at every meeting with his team, the top of the agenda is always about people: Who is doing what, who is maxing it out, who needs to be commended, who is setting an example? As he often says, “We recognize excellence promptly.”

Numbers or people: You decide

Mr. Hotshot CEO, after attending one of his meetings, asked him to scrap the people agenda and “get straight to the numbers and discuss the business.” My reaction, when my friend shared this with me, was to say the numbers and the business are ABOUT PEOPLE!

As a result of this “getting straight to business” is that the camaraderie in those team meetings has been shattered. Now the level of trust and transparency is like broken glass lying around after a crash.

The conversation stayed with me over the next few days. I just can’t wrap my head around these types of “people”; I will not give them the honor of calling them leaders. Did this CEO not get the memo? His style of command and control in today’s climate and organizational effectiveness is as out of style as an ill-fitting suit. So, my thought was that if this guy was the finalist, I do not want to entertain the thought of the others who did not pass through the filter to get that new role.

Wake up leaders!

This blog post is directed to the boards of organizations, C-suites and executive search firms: You can’t select people who have a leadership style that was in vogue years ago. With the amount of change that is upon us, and the most overused work in corporate lexicon today is “agile,” this CEO’s style of leadership will not work. The damage that is being done will take years to correct.

Look at any competency model for leadership today and you will see that a person of this type would never pass through that filter.

Leadership today is about collaboration with your team. Leaders should not be seen as the “answer man.” Problem pops up and he or she rides in and viola they solve it. This hero myth of the leader who comes in and saves the day is as old as the desktop computer.

For today’s organization to be successful, leaders should play the role of the coach. A coach’s role is to guide the team to a higher level of performance. You can’t win if you do not have the right people in place or the bond within the unit isn’t cohesive.

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In professional sports, the coach does not play the game; the coach strategizes with the team and lets those leaders [strategic roles] carry out the plays.

The Godfather’s leadership

So I dedicate this to aspiring leaders: build up your people skills, understand the importance of relationships. There was a scene in The Godfather when Sonny was asked, Do you spend time with your family? “Good,” said the Don, “A man that does not spend time with his family can never be a real man.”

So I paraphrase: A leader who does not spend time with his or her team can never be a real leader.

Get to know them as people, ask for their insights, tell them we will solve it as a unit and not individually. A real leader asks for help and knows that she does not know it all.

Ron Thomas

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.