A CEO getting fired is always an occasion for learning. Wall Street has given us two such occasions in the past two weeks.
What caught my attention were the observations about Stan O’Neal of Merrill Lynch. Note these descriptions from The Wall Street Journal in an article sub-titled ‘Startled Board Ditches a Famously Aloof CEO:’
“Mr. O’Neal’s talent and steely drive came with a tragic flaw:
- he didn’t much engage in debate
- he kept his own counsel
- he was uncomfortable around independent people with views which might be different than his
- operations meetings were often heavily staged and choreographed . . . . Mr. O’Neal would ask questions but rarely entertain discussion
- he had little use for the kind of strong-willed subordinates who might have helped him steer clear of the . . . troubles that brought him down”
Peter Drucker described The Effective Executive as one who “encourages opinions.” He went on to say that “a right decision grows out of the clash and conflict of divergent opinions and out of the serious consideration of competing alternatives.”
The insecure leader who is afraid of losing control or appearing weak cannot abide such a climate.
Early in my days as an Army officer I received this counsel that has stayed with me –
Good leaders surround themselves with people who aren’t afraid to tell them their breath stinks.
I have yet to meet the Leader who possesses “the whole package.” Effective leaders, besides being talented themselves, are also wise and humble enough to surround themselves with individuals who are often MORE talented than the Leader in specific areas. They give these individuals a voice . . . and LISTEN.
So . . . on a simple scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (good), how do you rate your inner circle in the following measures?
- Respect: they bring perspectives, knowledge, opinions that are valuable
- Trust: you can count on them to give you their best
- Safety: you can be vulnerable with them
(Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team is helpful in looking at these criteria.)
Now turn the mirror on yourself as Leader. How do you engender respect, trust, safety for those whose advice is critical to you?
I’ve observed that the risks to a Leader without one or more such trusted advisors can be fatal, resulting in a leader who becomes arrogant, suspicious, isolated, and ultimately surprised when they are booted from their company or their company fails.
An old Proverb comes to mind: “By wise counsel you will wage your own war, and in a multitude of counselors there is safety.”
Who’s around you?