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2.08.2012

When Will My Silence of the Lambs Come? - CEO 101 Ignored Triggers Cries from the Trenches

On my second or third trip to the Great Wall of China - of the world, really; given that it is or was the only man-made structure that could be seen from outer space - the guide said to us,
"The Wall is bound not just by cement. The blood and flesh of the workers who died building it is holding it together, too."

Hearing that made me appreciate anew the fact that the Wall is closed to the public at night.

Be it the Great Wall, the Pyramids, or the Taj Mahal, no doubt the rulers of the time did not lose sleep over the cries of the underlings that worked to create them.

And as the world watches corporate scandal after scandal unfold, we wonder if CEOs hear the cries of the employees who feel unappreciated, frustrated, and down right angry that their top manager fails to do what he is paid the big bucks to do - to lead and run the business in a profitable manner.

One of my now good friends is a teacher who runs coursers for students preparing for their certifications in accounting (CPA) or corporate compliance management (CIA). And he "stars" in a publicly available demo video of one of his classes. In it, he is teaching his class that the role of top management in a corporation is to develop and implement a chain of logically and realistically connected strategic initiatives that enables his business to continuously maintain competitive advantages in the market.


I used to tease him at the office and tell him that he needs to be preaching just that to his boss, the CEO.

He laughed, but I doubt he ever felt that the student, who has been CEO for nearly two years now, is ready for such "CEO 101" to date.

Some CEOs know this and want this, eat, sleep, and breathe this, but others who seek only the kudos of the title and the big pay check fail to see that there is a reason why he is paid the big bucks.

And I know as a fact that my friend and I both are in the rare position of watching a publicly listed company quickly and surely fall from grace and be branded a "black company."

The "lambs" being prepared for "slaughter" and those around them began to cry on the last day of January.

As the emails and text messages started coming in, I knew that people had backed out of their promise to me to "protect my team" and have begun to literally shoot from the hips.

One would think only a fool would start recklessly cutting down the pillars in his house with no heed to which ones can and cannot be spared to keep the ceiling and the entire structure from collapse. And any manager could be that fool if he has no understanding of how to read the blueprint that explains the structure of the house he is in, or worse yet, there is no proper blueprint to begin with.

Had my friend been successful at reminding his boss the responsibility and mission of the CEO, perhaps a proper blueprint would have been created. But what seems to be happening now is that the house is on fire and the manager thinks he can protect the room he is in by chopping down the pillars and knocking down the walls of the other rooms. In the mean time, those around him are hoping that the structure will hold long enough for this crazy man to be thrown out and that what little "water" is being thrown onto the fire will be enough to keep it at bay.

When I was CEO of an e-commerce business, my counterpart in Canada said to me from one CEO to another that if he had ONE advice for me, it was to never procrastinate a dismissal of a senior employee if I, as the CEO, felt that he was a bad apple that could rot the whole bunch in a short period of time.


I learned that his advice was a really important one the hard way - by doing exactly what he told me not to do: procrastinate.

I knew the CMO had to go. His subordinates were resigning because of his lack of consistency of direction or lack of vision, period. His colleagues were coming to my office and closing the door behind them to tell me that if I don't do something about this guy, the whole plane will go down because he is literally an engine already in flames.

By the time I finally gave him the pink slip, the damage had been done. But what surprised me the most was how happy he was that I ended his anxiety over his fate. He knew he was going to be fired. And he did not have the guts to resign. So he was waiting. And the wait was killing him and his subordinates.

Last night, I heard another bout of screaming from the "lambs."

I asked why they were calling me. "There is very little I can do for you from where I am now," I told them. They said they know. But they needed an empathetic ear to hear them out.

It was ironic and made both the man who said it and myself laugh when he said,
"You know, I now wish you actually had hit him."

Ha, ha, ha... we both laughed. He was among the handful of men who worked hard to stop me as I was uncharacteristically emotional that one afternoon when my team were in shock that their CEO did a 180-degree about face over a project they had been working on nights and weekends.

"Then again," he said in parting, "the rate the hatchet man is working now, he probably fears dark shadows at night anyway, as any one of his victims could decide to go postal on him."

But then one wonders if such men are sensitive enough to even think that anyone other than himself is suffering under the current circumstances, which is what makes the crying of the lambs so heart breaking and in vain to begin with.

I fear I will not yet have silence from the lambs for a while yet...

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