At the suggestion of, and with the help of, Glenn Kelman, here are more lies. These are the lies of CEOs running a companies that are beyond the startup phase. Startup phase lies you’ve read here before.
- “Working together, we’ve established our goals.” In other words, these are the goals that the CEO decided will make him look good. Few managers believe that these goals are doable, and yet they are the ones who are going to have to accomplish them. But that’s what working together means: the CEO decides and the workers do.
- “It’s like a startup around here.” This could mean that the place lacks adult supervision; capital is running out; the product is behind schedule; investors have given up, and employees are paid below market rates. Sure, it could alternatively mean that the company is energized, entrepreneurial, making meaning, and kicking butt, but just be sure to double check.
- “Your project will be a skunkworks reporting directly to me.” This means that no one else at the management level buys into the idea. The CEO might protect you—as this lie implies. Or, you may be fighting for your life against the naysayers when the CEO moves on to the next brilliant idea du jour.
- “I wanted to do this, but the board wouldn’t let me.” This is a cop out. A good CEO tells the board what she wants to do. She doesn’t seek permission—forgiveness maybe, but never permission. So this statement means one of two things: the CEO didn’t really try her best to get something approved or the board is losing confidence in the CEO.
- “I expect you to figure this out.” This is a loaded, supposed backhanded compliment. It’s supposed to mean, ”I have such confidence in you that I know you can do this.” Sometimes it does means this. Most times, though, it means that the CEO has no clue and is praying that you can save his butt.
- “Our sales pipeline looks good.” This means that the vice president of sales leaned on the regional sales manager who leaned on the regional sales rep to pump up the forecast because the CEO doesn’t want to look bad to the board of directors.
- “We will be profitable soon.” After leaning on the sales organization and it “came through with a great pipeline,” the CEO could then ”reliably“ predict profitability. He never did check with the CFO, though. If the company isn’t profitable, then it’s the fault of the vice president of sales or CFO anyway.
- “The stock price is not important; what’s important is building a great company.” There are handful of visionary CEOs who mean this when they say it. However, you don’t work for one of them. If one could get an honest answer out of CEOs, most would tell you that they’d rather have a rising stock price than a great company. Very few have the courage to build a great company and trust that a rising stock price is a natural outcome of this accomplishment.
- “I’ve never worked with a better group of people.” The career limiting comeback to this is, “Well, I have—starting at the top.” This can be a legitimate morale boosting statement when it is infrequently made. However, if a CEO spouts this off more than once every five to ten years, and you know there are clearly bozos on the team (often protected by the CEO), then you know that he’s playing you.
- “I’m open to new ideas.” The CEO must have recently read a book by a management guru. She’s certainly open to his own new ideas. She’s probably open to new ideas from the consultants that she hired at $10,000/day. Maybe she read a new idea in a blog, God help us. The relevant question is whether she’s open to new ideas from the rank-and-file employees who really know how to fix the company.
- “I want to hear the truth; I don’t want yes-men around me.” Maybe this is the truth: he doesn’t want yes men around—he wants yes women. But I doubt it. It could be that he’s so arrogant that he believes that he’s always right so there’s nothing to disagree with. But I doubt that too. The most likely situation is that he’s just lying, and he wants people to always agree with him.
- “I will gladly step aside when the time comes.” Sure, with a $10 million severance package, who wouldn’t be glad to step aside?
- “This is how we did it at (name of previous company he was fired from), and it worked.” And that’s why the company let him go. And that’s why the employees at the previous company rejoiced when the news spread. And, unfortunately, that’s why the directors of this company hired him: because he was a senior-level packaged goods guy who was available, and the board thought that your tech products should be sold like laundry detergent.
- “I don’t need to understand all that whiz-bang stuff to be a good CEO.” Absolutely. Your customers aren’t that smart. Neither are your employees, vendors, and partners. The CEO just needs to stand there: tall, white, and gray haired, and let everyone kiss his ring.
- “I don’t need to rehearse my speech.” This is because he’s not to going to gauge audience reaction since his limo is waiting to whisk him away. He’ll simply ask his handlers, Trixie and Biff, how they think he did. And they will tell him that the emperor has very fine clothes indeed.
- “We are a customer-focused company.” If only the CEO had appended two additional words: “this quarter.” Because next quarter the company will be an innovation-driven company. And the quarter after that a Six Sigma driven company. And the quarter after that the company will be producing purple cows. And the quarter after that it will be evangelistic (depending on whether the CEO reads my book or Seth’s first).
Bonus: “I can telecommute and still keep my house on the golf course in Carmel.” The CEO should be living and dying with the company. If anything, he should be there more than anyone.
Rather than these lies, here are four things you’d like your CEO to say:
- “I don’t know.”
- “Thank you.”
- “Do what’s right.”
- “It’s my fault.”
Written at: Alesund, Norway