“I couldn’t stand it. She was so mean! To everyone!“, exclaimed a colleague last week when he told me – with gritted teeth – that he had declined a lucrative consulting job. He could not work with the CEO.
As always, it would be very tempting to find out what was going in the relationship between the two. Find out the right and wrong of both sides and then make a judgment. However, that is not what this is about. So rule number one: no judging. Can you do it? Right, it is tough. Let’s see how far we get with this.
The company board had called in my colleague. The board’s concerns were the usual metrics: cost reduction, revenue growth and staunching the profit loss. However, they also knew something was not quite right. Too many people were leaving, especially those who were hired recently and had been an excellent match according to company’s assessment. So they tried to look into something new: the culture of the organization.
That kind of opened a can of worms. The plethora of personality profiles, evaluation assessments, match makes with position, etc. pointed towards the epicenter of distortion: the CEO. She had a fascinating set of values, skills, background and saboteurs. An unfamiliar term here may be saboteurs. In a nutshell: saboteurs are the voices in your head that tell you that you are incapable, not experienced enough, risking too much or simply not worthy. Every one of us has those party poopers in the head. They speak in different voices and in different situations. The longer you ignore them the more persistent they get. And if you are not aware of them, they will whisper lies in your sleep and waking life and prevent you from living fully. For more detailed explanation of saboteurs I refer to Shirzad Chamine, the genius inventor of the term in this context.
The CEO’s saboteurs were informed by the upbringing in a children-rich family (7 odd siblings) where dogfights between the children for food or attention from the parents were the order of the day. She learned to use her elbows to get to the food or cuddle or any other essential nutriment for survival and growth first and smile or play the victim when the parents were around. The CEO learned to toughen up, towards herself and others, with the conviction that there is no free lunch unless you grabbed it for yourself. A determined career climber was born, with little empathy for herself and others and the precise and intuitive knowledge what authority was looking for in a student, manager or CEO.
The CEO’s leadership style was charming peers that could be allies, kicking downwards if needed and always pleasing upwards. In times of stress we all are challenged in our behaviors. In those times the saboteurs, whose job was to keep us safe during childhood, come out kicking and screaming. Particularly when you start recognizing that your methods and behaviors are leading you repeatedly to a dead-end. Saboteurs will fight to maintain their stronghold when you try out new ways that are actually wholesome, resourceful and creative.
The troubles with the company performance and rapid departure of people who were hired into key positions put a lot of pressure on the CEO. The CEO’s saboteurs came out swinging their arsenal of controlling weapons such as intimidating people into obedience, using their weak spots to hurt them and make them small, showing a smiling and confidence radiating face to the board, whilst working crazy hours to get the balance sheet right again. When the company wide personality and behavior testing commenced and revealed counter-productive mechanisms the saboteurs went screaming mad towards the consultant who was stirring the pot.
The consultant himself was under heavy saboteur attack that responded strongly to the CEO’s saboteurs. The consultant had grown up in circumstances in which he was a victim of intimidation and had received countless emotional and physical elbow blows against his ribs.
A perfect match. A set up for anti-collaboration, which lead to all efforts being dropped. The company board still doesn’t have solution for the diminishing returns and high people turn-over and the CEO keeps on working herself and everyone else really hard.
How could this situation be different? Perhaps it could be solved? This is where the voice of wholesomeness, resourcefulness and creativity comes into play.