This is a great article. Professor Michael Roberto gave the heads up about this article and I instantly thought this would be some good stuff for leaders of all levels to check out. It is also some good advice for how management/leaders can gain Fingerspitzengefühl or a ‘finger tip feel’ for what is going on within their company or unit. Below is a quick background on the German term and I think it fits well with what is talked about in the article.
Fingerspitzengefühl is a German term, literally meaning “finger tips feeling” and meaning intuitive flair or instinct, which has been appropriated by the English language as a loanword. In German, it describes a great situational awareness, and the ability to respond most appropriately and tactfully. It can be applied well to diplomats, bearers of bad news, or to describe a superior ability respond to an escalated situation.
The word is enjoying a second life in the English language in military terminology, where it is used for the stated ability of some military commanders, such as Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel, to maintain with great accuracy in attention to detail an ever-changing operational and tactical situation by maintaining a mental map of the battlefield. In this sense the term is synonymous with the English expression of “keeping one’s finger on the pulse”. The mental image given is of a military commander who is in such intimate communication with the battlefield that it is as though he has a fingertip on each critical point, expressed in the 18th and 19th centuries as “having a feel for combat”. -from Wikipedia
I also agree entirely with Professor Roberto’s commentary on the article. That these are some concepts that leaders should be practicing in their formative years so that it becomes ingrained into their psyche and leadership style. Perhaps one day a reader here, that has taken these concepts to heart, will apply them to their command as a CEO of a company? Here is Roberto’s quote:
I think it’s a terrific list. Moreover, I think it applies to managers at all levels of an organization, not just at the CEO position. Front-line managers should also cultivate an objective sounding board, encourage dissent, and surround themselves with talented subordinates. In fact, if people engage in these practices early in their managerial career, they may be less likely to catch CEO disease if and when they rise to the top.
What also came to mind as I read through this thing is that the CEO of G4S, Nick Buckles, was probably the victim of some of this CEO-itis, or basically was lacking in any kind of finger tip feel for what was going on with their London Olympics security contract. The end result has been disastrous for him and the company, and it is still ongoing.
So here are the main concepts, and I will add some points to them that are relevant to this industry. Also note how many of these tie into the concepts listed under Jundism.
#1 Surround yourself with highly capable lieutenants.
This one is commonsense and you always want to bring folks into your decision making team that are smart and capable. But you also want honest folks who will give you the straight scoop. You do not want a team of ‘yes men’ who will never say no or fear giving their advice or opinion. You do not want clones of yourself either just because then you get situations within a team that leads to confirmation bias or group think. So pick your lieutenants wisely, and that goes from the shift leader looking for an assistant shift leader, all the way up to CEO’s of companies looking for a management team.
#2 Encourage dissent, discourage sycophants.
This one is great, and ties in well with #1 . You want folks who will be honest with you and genuinely care about the success of the company or the mission. You do not want yes men or folks willing to step all over others in order to get to a position– that has your ear. The CEO should ‘trust, but verify’ the quality of their management team. They should actively seek feedback and treat that as gold.
Those who are willing to dissent should be heard, and leaders should have respect for those individuals that actually came forward with an issue. A leader should interpret that as someone who cares enough about the company to actually step forward with a way to make it better.(the courage to do what is right) A leader should not look at that as a threat, or be driven by ego to the point where only they come up with the ‘good ideas’. Good ideas or warnings about issues in the company can come from anywhere and anyone, and it is up to the leaders to make sure they are listening and keeping open to that.
This definitely applies to shift leaders and small unit leaders. You should encourage folks to come forward with better ideas, and actually act on those ideas. (People will support what they help to create), so let them help to create a great team so they can feel part of the process.
#3 Regularly admit and fix your mistakes.
No one likes dishonesty and no one likes folks that do not admit to when they screw up. Take ownership of your mistakes and then fix them–and learn from them. (Continuously improve) yourself and the company, and don’t sweep this stuff under the carpet.
As a shift leader or project manager, this rule is very important. If you want folks to come up to you and admit some crucial error, then you as the leader must (lead by example) and show by your actions what that means. This process will allow for honesty to surface, which then leads to getting a better feel for what is going on with your contract or the company.
I imagine with this G4S deal, folks were not willing to admit to mistakes at some point along the line. Because if the CEO of the company only found out about the condition of a poorly run high profile contract like this, only days before the media found out and blew it up, then that says to me that some folks were not keeping upper management in the loop. Or upper management was told, but no one wanted to pass it on. Probably so that their leader(s) they were sucking up to would get the impression that all is well and they are ‘on top of it’. pffffft. In the end, not saying something about it or acknowledging that there was a problem, has led to an even bigger problem.
#4 Treat every employee with respect.
This is a no-brainer as well, but CEO’s all the way down to Project Managers seem to screw this one up. Especially in this industry. Our group is filled with Type A personalities who sometimes think it is appropriate to demand the same respect they got when they were in the military or police or wherever. Actions speak louder than words, and in this industry, it is not about what you used to be, but what you are right now.
Private industry also requires a different type of leadership than what was required in the military or police. When PM’s or others fail to shift gears and recognize this new reality, they quickly learn the errors of their ways. Especially when contractors make the mass exodus from a contract because they were poorly treated or disrespected. Remember, at will contracts go both ways, and contractors will just leave. There is no law requiring folks to sit there and take that kind of abuse.
The other one that project managers especially screw up is ‘leadership by email’. If you are thousands of miles away and sending out emails to folks on contracts, and you have not paid special attention as to what is said in those emails, then PM’s can do massive damage. They can be insensitive to the particulars of those who are fulfilling the contract in some war zone, they can sound gruff and out of touch, they can actually offend by saying the wrong things, etc. It all leads to the one thing, and that is having respect for those that you are leading out there. If you cannot show that respect in person in that war zone, then at the very least you should work hard to show respect in your emails as you sit in the comfort of your office.
Besides, those emails are permanent records of communications. If a disgruntled contractor had received a horrible letter filled with disrespectful items, then that thing could be used in future actions against that sender or the company. Or if a leader wrote an email while they were drunk or during a really stressful time period in their life, then like a bullet leaving a gun, that email is effectively doing damage. It does it’s damage well after it was sent and could passed around all over the place. Subordinates will show others these emails, and have proof of how little the company cares or how horrible a leader is. So sending nasty-grams like that are incredibly damaging to a program and the culture of a company. Don’t do it, and always watch what you say when you communicate with subordinates.
Treat them with the same respect as if you were face to face with them, and use positive reinforcement versus the negative. And don’t lie or keep folks in the dark, because that can be damaging as well. Especially if folks find out through other means that a leader has purposely done those things.
#5 Find an objective sounding board outside the office.
This last one is a good one. Find someone or a group that will keep you grounded. On contracts, it could be a loved one or a friend(s) you talk with via skype. Or if the job is at home, then maybe you have a group you can connect with that is outside of your gig.
Or, if you are on a contract, then find someone there that you can confide in and talk openly. In the military they call this a battle buddy, and not only are they important for watching your back in a war zone, but they are very helpful for when you need to vent about stuff on the contract and mission. Especially if you are a shift leader or PM, all the way up to CEO.
It is extremely helpful to be able to just talk freely and not worry about command presence or being the guy in charge. To have someone that you can just be a normal joe around and use them as a sounding board is great. Leaders are human too, and you definitely cannot be an island. With that said, I imagine Nick Buckles is venting in private with his ‘sounding board’, and especially after the monumental stress of responding to this crisis every day.
You also need a sounding board at the CEO level, just so you don’t get into the idea that you are superior or the company is untouchable or will never fail. One of the comments in the article over at where this was originally published said that CEO’s need someone whispering in their ear, much like the Roman whispering slave during Roman Triumphs. These guys followed behind generals telling them how immortal they were, as a part of the ceremony. (The words that the slave is said to have used are not known, but suggestions include “Respice te, hominem te memento” (“Look behind you, remember you are only a man”) and “Memento mori” (“Remember that you are mortal”-wikipedia).
Pretty cool and let me know what you think? If you are a CEO or former CEO, or if you have had experience at any level of leadership in a organization, I would love to hear your thoughts on this stuff. -Matt
Finding a Cure for “CEO-itis”
By JOANN S. LUBLIN
July 12, 2012
Warning: You could be at risk of contracting “CEO-itis.”
An affliction of arrogance that plagues many people picked for powerful posts, its symptoms include a tendency toward isolation, belief that you’re smarter than others, preference for loyalists, aversion to changing course even in the face of failure –and love of royal treatment.
It appears to occur when promising managers reach the corner office or other C-suite spots. Once infected, once-successful executives often underperform and put themselves at great risk of early exits, experts say.
In June, John Figueroa quit after 17 months as chief executive of Omnicare Inc. “He believed he accomplished the goals established by the board,” the nursing-home pharmacy operator announced.
But Mr. Figueroa also acted imperiously, ignored suggestions from colleagues, and made extensive personal use of the corporate aircraft, according to people familiar with the situation.
In short, the CEO title went to his head, one informed individual says. McKesson Corp., Mr. Figueroa’s prior employer, had recommended him as a collaborative team player, another person remembers. Omnicare declined to comment.
Mr. Figueroa says he’s “very proud of all the great things we accomplished” during his Omnicare stint, though he concedes he wasn’t a warm and fuzzy boss. “I certainly did not make friends with everyone as tough decisions had to be made,” he says. “We changed things very quickly, and looking back, I could have been better” at communicating with the board and managers.
Similarly, while Mr. Figueroa denies abusing perks, he confirms that a friend of his daughter flew with him, his wife and daughter on the corporate aircraft during a business trip.
Every top executive once was a rising star, building a base of influence. What changes them along the way?
David Kirchhoff, head of Weight Watchers International Inc., admits that he’s had bouts of CEO-itis since assuming command in 2007. “It’s almost impossible to avoid completely,” he explains. “People treat you differently” when you become chief executive. He says he keeps his ego in check by working closely with people who enjoy teasing him.
Senior managers with an inflated sense of their superiority repeat actions long after they stop working because they overlook “information that has changed,” says Carol S. Dweck, a Stanford University psychology professor and author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” The rapid pace of change in most businesses requires more questioning, not less, she notes.
The problem, also called CEO disease, “is beyond epidemic,” in part because executives today are so stressed that they fail to open themselves to new ideas and see themselves as “God’s gift to the world,” says Richard Boyatzis, an organizational behavior, psychology and cognitive science professor at Case Western University. He co-wrote “Primal Leadership,” a 2002 book that discusses CEO disease.
Still, it is possible to get ahead without getting a swelled head. The remedy, leadership specialists say, involves the often painful process of reattaching an executive’s feet to the ground.
Here are suggestions, gathered from ten present and former CEOs, for how to maintain equilibrium after you land a top job:
Surround yourself with highly capable lieutenants.
“You have to have enough self-confidence to know you’ll do well if you have a bunch of smart people doing well,” Mr. Kirchhoff observes.
Strong, talented associates “make it easy to acknowledge I don’t always – or even often – have the best idea in the room,” concurs Scott Wine, CEO of Polaris Industries Inc. , a maker of off-road vehicles, motorcycles and snowmobiles. That’s why “I cannot be arrogant or expect unwarranted privileges,” he adds.
Encourage dissent, discourage sycophants.
Help subordinates overcome their fear of offering frank feedback – but resist their seductive accolades.
“Reward people who challenge you,” recommends William George, a former CEO of Medtronic Inc. “I didn’t promote people who didn’t take me on.”
Mr. George says he especially disliked associates who frequently flattered him or showed up uninvited at meetings in order to gain face time with the CEO. For the worst sycophants, “I actually had to move them out,” recollects Mr. George, now a management practice professor at Harvard Business School.
Regularly admit and fix your mistakes.
Taking responsibility for your errors “is a very powerful way to keep yourself humble,” Mr. Kirchhoff says. He recently took his own advice.
Weight Watchers’ first-quarter profit fell more than expected on virtually flat revenue growth. During a May earnings call, Mr. Kirchhoff blamed the disappointing performance on execution issues. “I bear responsibility for those misses,” he said.
Treat every employee with respect.
Carin Stutz, hired to lead Cosi Inc. in January, is trying to revive the struggling fast-casual dining chain. Her predecessor resigned shortly after Nasdaq warned that it might delist the company. .
“There is definitely a lot more attention and visibility in this (CEO) role,” says Ms. Stutz, previously a Brinker International Inc. executive. “I feel more responsible than ever to respect and support people.”
Ms. Stutz chose a highly visible way to demonstrate respect for Cosi workers. She spent ten hours a day during her initial five weeks as CEO going through store-manager training. Among other things, she baked bread, prepared food and ran the cash register at restaurants in three cities.
Find an objective sounding board outside the office.
A spouse, executive coach or informal group of advisors can alert you about looming signs of CEO-itis.
Mr. George, for instance, has attended a men’s support group every Wednesday morning for nearly 35 years. “You’re losing it (humility),” some members warned while he ran Medtronic.
He says he was being too direct with his employees because he thought he had all the answers. Thanks to such reality checks, Mr. George adds, “you pay attention to your behavior.”