It seems the higher they go the more childish some of them become. I'm talking about the high life of a chief executive officer; our corporate leaders driving the economic marketplace of America -- and the world -- today.
It was a total "aha" moment for me. I recently had an email exchange with a colleague of mine. He completely blew me off for a scheduled conference call. The next day he wrote to apologize and informed me that the excuse had been a family emergency, that his three-year-old was driving him and his wife crazy. I emailed back with complete empathy and understanding. My imparting remark to my colleague was declaring to him that in all my years in business there was one thing I'd definitively learned: that being that 3-year-olds -- and CEOs -- are capable of driving us all crazy mad! At the time, our CEO, whom we were working for together was quite... well let's just say, maddening!
If you don't agree, just look at all time number one offender -- and media hound -- John McAfee. Can anyone imagine him running anything but away from the law nowadays! Just this year alone, bad boys gone wild are longer than Santa's wish list. Lockheed Martin Corp's Christopher Kubasik, Brian Dunn at Best Buy and best of them all CIA guy David Petraeus. And then there are the bad boys who like to illegally spend other people's money especially when you're running a bank. Look at Nomura CEO Kenichi Watanabe, Peregrine Financial Group's Russ Wasendorf Sr., and Barclay's Robert Diamond to name a few.
And like any screaming 3-year-old that doesn't get their way, there is a sense of displaced entitlement among these corporate honchos. Whether it's a misappropriation of funds which impacts shareholders and markets overall or seducing a subordinate with a sexy string of emails... and more, it's clearly irresponsible behavior and it's dead wrong.
I relate to it on a very personal level as well. As an executive communications coach, I deal with business leaders -- men and women -- everyday who, behind the scenes prepping for an important speech or presentation, sometimes act as needy or insecure as a tot looking for affirmation from an approving parent. "Did I do alright?" or "How did that sound?" are frequent questions I'm asked afterwards as these high-stakes execs seek validation after a public performance or interview which can sometimes unmask their rough and tough exteriors and expose their inner child. "You did great," I assure them as it reminds me of recent playground moments with my own toddler-aged nieces and nephews applauding their dexterity and prowess on trips up and down the monkey bars and swings.
If you go to the Parents.com website in their 'All About 3-Year-Olds' section, you don't have to be a parent to appreciate the advice listed: "6 Little Behavioral Problems You Shouldn't Ignore," "Playing too Rough," and "10 Instant Tantrum Tamers." I would love to see those same headlines in a corporate handbook... which, in some instances, is precisely where they belong. What is it that these grown men don't get years later as adults? The bottom line is responsibility. Not only on a corporate level but more importantly as an individual... taking responsibility for ones own actions.
When I was working at Perot Systems -- yes, that Perot -- we were all given wallet-sized cards with the company's mission and values listed. On that card were statements that read lead by example and conduct our personal and professional life in a manner that will bring credit to ourselves, our family, and our company at all times. As cheesy as it sounds, I bring this up not as an endorsement, but rather because it has resonated with me all these years later. I do realize most large companies have a defined mission, an articulated list of goals, and an underpinning code of conduct. But how many employees can recite any bit of it? And when the boss breaks all the rules, why should we even bother?
So as these chiefs are publicly canned, hauled off to jail, and hopefully forced to pay back their financial and ethical deficits; I'm reminded of another childhood lesson: it's time to pay the piper. That may be satisfying for some but there's always another generation of bad boys already lined up behind them waiting in the wings to fill those coveted corner offices... and I'm left to wonder -- will they ever really grow up?