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Want a place on the Board?

Business, Company Strategy, Innnovation, Knowledge management, Managing people, Technology
By John Richardson on 13-Aug-2008

For us lesser mortals further down the slippery career pole, it is easy to stare up with envy and contempt at the CEOs of our own companies and other companies.

Many us at times feel (myself included) that we could do a great deal better than our bosses.

I plan to develop a CEO board game with online and “hard copy” versions complete with chance cards such as “You get caught price-fixing at a major industry event. Do not pass Go and do not collect $2,000. Go straight to jail”. The reference to Monopoly wasn’t meant to be a dreadful pun.

We could then put our supposed superior skills into practice and prove whether we are really cut out for life at the top. And maybe if the game was accurate enough, it could be used to help assess real applicants for the top jobs. Watch this space for a prototype.

In the meantime, management consultants, as you well know, make a fortune from offering all kinds of advice to companies and their CEOs about how to make it big.

This is not always money well spent, according to Victor Newman – former chief learning officer at Pfizer – who is now what he calls an independent Knowledge Activist.

In his excellent video, 4 Faces of CEO, he talks of how one particular consultancy charged several million dollars for 3-4 months work, only to produce findings that he says could have been reached in a couple of hours through internal discussion.

I digress. This is not meant to be a dig at management consultants whose work I admire and whose salaries I envy almost as much as my CEO’s.

It must be lonely and tough at the top, although a massive salary and the guarantee of a huge pay-off even if you turn out to be a load of rubbish are considerable compensations.

Newman’s video is the opening to a CEO workshop where he tries to tackle the loneliness attached to making big decisions.

He highlights something we can all relate to no matter what our rank: the feeling of powerlessness to achieve what we want to achieve because we lack the necessary skills, resources or simply the time to get to the “ideal world” (in my case, a CEO board game developed within the next six months which becomes a huge commercial success enabling me to retire, save the world and ban caravans from the roads).

He has developed a diagnostic approach where business leaders identify where they want to get to and measure this against how far away they are from their objectives. Results of these evaluations are then shared in what he admits can be a painful exercise, followed with discussion on how each of the CEOs can get closer to their ideals.

Sounds great stuf not only for CEOs but for anybody who cares about progressing in their job.

And what’s fascinating is the reason for the 4 Faces of a CEO title of his video.

These four faces are:

*Creators who don’t care about money because they are “intrinsically motivated”. In other words there is no point in just waving the big salary cheque, the luxury new car and country club membership at these people. The buzz they get is from new ideas and only new ideas. They find implementing ideas boring because they want to move on to the next thing

*Stabilisers who are loathed by the creators. These are the nerdy spreadsheet and process people who love setting up systems and would rather not take risks than risk failure

*Implementers. They can dress in jeans and bizzarely designed T-shirts – just like the creators – and share with these space cases thoughts about the intellectual beauty and complexity of this world. They are just as comfortable mixing with the stabilisers as they can be equally passionate about the latest delivery of paper clips.

*Newton says that only recently he identified a fourth category of business leader – navigators. These are the people who ask all the right questions of the three types of CEO listed above, can pull these types together, are great communicators both internally and externally and can see the big picture.

Other than having no interest in bizarre T-shirts (my sales manager more than compensates for me in this crucial aspect of innovation) I am too much of a creator. I hate loathe, detest and despise process (but begrudgingly now admit it’s occassionally useful), which has got me into a lot of trouble over the years.

The ideal CEO might well be the navigator – the person with the great people skills, the zest for entrepeneurship, the huge capacity for detail and the ability to make processes work for people rather than the other way round.

And so – using these above categorie -, let’s all indulge in the spectator sport of assessing how chemical CEOS fit in with Newman’s categories.

Watch this space!