My Boss Is an Idiot

My friend, a senior executive heading the US subsidiary of a foreign company, recently wrote me the following assessment of his current situation and especially his boss:

I am an executive working in a leadership capacity for an international company for more than a decade.  I am an intelligent, creative and capable leader with a proven and successful track record and, after many years of enjoying what I do, I am now very unhappy.

Our company has been struggling world-wide for a few years now and its performance continues to deteriorate.  The previous CEO lacked the vision, discipline and commitment to make the required decisions, so it is not surprising that the Board recently decided to replace him with a strong ‘Type A’ personality CEO. Maybe ‘Type AAA’ is more like it.

The new CEO comes with a strong background: he is intelligent, experienced, articulate, and a charismatic speaker.  He is not an idiot; he simply acts like one.

The new CEO ‘knows it all’ and leads the company with a style that fairly screams, “I say, you do”. I’ve never worked for this type of leader in the past and I can’t say that I am enjoying it. Maybe if I worked for a genius like Steve Jobs I might feel  differently and be willing to tolerate this arrogant approach. In this case, I see the CEO making some good and some bad choices, but none of which are strategic and changing the direction of the company.  All of them so far are tactical and won’t move the needle on the company’s future, so I don’t think that I will stay in this environment for the long haul.

Since the new CEO arrived, I see a damaging impact on morale at virtually all levels of the organization. It underscores that negative energy is as contagious as positive inspiration, maybe more so.

Ruling out the option to simply quit this job, I have decided to stick around, at least for the short-term, to execute our subsidiary’s plans to the best of my capabilities.   Not for the new CEO’s success but for my own.

 I do have to remind myself continually to be self- motivated to execute.  The following are my main reasons:

1.  I had good reasons, beyond compensation and opportunity, to join this company in the first place. These ideas and ideals have not changed. I can still do well by them.

2.  The organization has been more than fair to me. Even the new CEO has already tried to promote me and offered me a position to work closer to him in a more strategic capacity. I tactfully declined his offer.

3. The organization needs me now more than ever and there are people and families that depend on my ability to execute.

4.  It is easier to observe mistakes and learn from wrong decisions and negative actions. For one reason or another, learning from one’s mistakes is an easier task than learning from people doing the right things, so I’m learning fast (what not to do).

5. It is somewhat hard to admit, but the new CEO also has good sides and positive attributes in both his character and execution, so I try to observe and learn from these experiences, too.

6. Strong performance buys me time to decide about my future and certainly gives me more options. I will also be remembered and supported by this organization differently depending on how I perform today.

7. There is a good probability that the new CEO will fail.  I certainly do not want to be the person or the reason for his failure. He will have others to blame. And, if I stick around and perform at a high level, I may find myself with the opportunity to succeed him one of these (not too distant) days.

As long as I am here, and at this point it is becoming less clear how long that is, I am going to continue to execute. The more challenging element, which may require further digging inside my soul, is to find somehow more happiness at the same time.

I think my friend nailed it.  What would you do in this executive’s shoes?

About Ken Drossman

Ken Drossman is a Managing Director at Oak & Apple Partners, LLC. Ken has spent more than 35 years demonstrating practical financial acumen by leading, advising and guiding privately-owned, small and middle-market companies through financial and operating challenges. He has in-depth experience in all phases of financial, strategic and operating management from hands on cash flow budgeting through acquisition financing, from divestiture of business units to reorganizing and leading newly formed companies. Prior to co-founding Oak & Apple Partners, Ken has been the principal at Lakeview Business Consulting, LLC, which assists entrepreneurial business owners and their companies in achieving their business vision. Ken earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Before founding Lakeview Business Consulting in 2006, he served for 18 years as CEO, COO and/or CFO at several privately-owned companies, in industries including financial services for hospitals; digital document storage and outsourced back-office services for professional service firms; design and distribution of personal business accessories through big-box retailers; capital goods manufacturing for national and regional retail chains; and information services for beverage alcohol manufacturing and marketing companies. Previously, Ken was a Partner at Grant Thornton, LLP, where he provided management consulting services to such companies as AT&T, Baxter Laboratories and GTE-Sylvania, as well as many middle-market companies.
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4 Responses to My Boss Is an Idiot

  1. I believe it is a tough call as to whether I’d do anything different, given that your friend’s account does not indicate if anyone at the company – at any level – has approached the CEO directly or indirectly to discuss their concerns. If anyone has and the results have not yielded information that indicate the positive potential of sharing thoughts on how current practices don’t support the corporate vision, mission or its efforts to position itself strategically for a strong future, then your friends approach is definitely spot on, doing his best to support the organization, whilst looking for other venues through which he can make an impact and enjoy the process. If there is any indication that leading up from below would enable this CEO to see where he too could make changes that would result in better performance and a freeing of the potential talent within the organizational ecosystem, as I leader I don’t know that I would be able to restrain myself from having conversations – either with the CEO or others that I know are receptive to differing styles of leadership. Sometimes even with a new leader at the helm, it takes a collective leadership to steer the ship toward a brighter future for all.

  2. Tim Barrett says:

    I would do the same thing but go on to note some employees might describe fellow tabsters
    as the same kind of boss. The friend’s evaluation is subjective and may be less than accurate.

  3. erkorb says:

    Fear and uncertainty…it always happens when we are faced with the challenge of aging out of the workforce and no solid prospects for future work. Even with our emotions on edge, we still seem to look at the brighter side of our work environment when faced with the self-decision to leave. Frankly, I think in many cases we’d prefer to be fired than have to make that decision for ourselves.
    I’ve faced this situation myself. I “stuck in there” and executed to the best of my ability. Here are the flaws I experienced in taking that approach:

    1. A senior executive team that isn’t “working”, means the company isn’t working either.
    2. You are likely going to depend this manager for a reference down the road, so don’t stick around to give him something negative to talk about.
    3. Once I finally moved on, I wondered why it took me so long – I’m so much happier now.
    4. I found that if I didn’t trust my colleagues it changed (held-back) the way I communicated with them. So, in the end I wasn’t really getting the results I desired and the company suffered in the end.

    Moral: If it feels like a bad situation, looks like a bad situation, behaves like a bad situation – its a bad situation. I’ve found there are always opportunities for competent people. If you are truly a superstar, you’ll find a better situation.

  4. GTippy says:

    1) You’re paid to do a job, so you have a duty to give full value for as long as you choose to be there.
    2) You will look better to future employers if you leave while winning, even if only as the best in a messy company.
    3) Your best chance of success within the company, whether now or as a possible successor to your current manager, is to continue to win on what you control.
    4) If you care about your peers and employees, you owe them your best effort as long as you are there, and will profit yourself if you can keep them moving forward. (And it is much easier to demoralize a group of employees than to inspire them.)

    Not that you should not leave. But slacking off or surrendering in place would be a disaster. I believe races are most often won by those who run all the way through the finish line.

    All your possible goals are furthered by continued high performance in your subsidiary. Just don’t let that thought keep you from looking at the marketplace while you try to be a star where you are.

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