When Your CEO is in the Weeds

timtolan Leadership, Tim Tolan

Weeds Let’s face it – we all have our way of doing things in our own unique style. There is a universal reason that no two people look exactly alike, think alike and process information exactly the same way.  That’s what makes the world go ‘round and ‘round! Some of us are expressive thinkers and outgoing while others are more cognitive and more reserved on their communication style. The hope is, like an orchestra with many different musicians (style and talent) performing together, the outcome can be beautiful music. It’s because it’s a concerted effort and everyone is contributing and playing their part – not always at the very same moment. While music is not THE perfect analogy of my point – it deserves some thought.

This sets the tone for a conversation I had recently with a candidate who (really) hates working at her company. The CEO is a very dynamic, smart person whom many people admire and respect. A market-facing business person who understands his industry – is a very quick study and can go the distance on a variety of wide-ranging topics. My candidate, who sells medical devices software, has been reasonably successful with the company. Good track record, hard worker and loyal to a fault. Smart – articulate and full of ideas. The problem, she explained to me, is that her ideas (and her voice) are never heard by the CEO. In fact, none of her effort/ideas (or for that matter any employee’s) are given much credence by the CEO. He wants everyone to do things his way and his style has radically changed the way employees view the company and his leadership. Net-Net – it’s his way or the highway. Too bad.

He is in the weeds. He will engage (every time) in the sales process with a new customer, marginalize the sales team with his CEO title and by default takes over. He wants to review sales presentation materials days in advance of a meeting and it does not matter how hard an employee works to put a presentation together or how many hours they invest. Once he gets his hands on it, he owns it and immediately everyone on the sales and marketing team knows where this is headed. He “nit-picks” and changes everything his team deilvered over and over until he believes it’s perfect. He makes changes only to send it back to the underlings for more abuse – and then make more changes. Every aspect of all market-facing and client facing material has “his DNA” on the final product – every time. And guess who the lead salesperson is every time? You guessed it – the CEO. That’s a broken model.

He does not discriminate. He does that for every department in the company. From finance to HR to legal – he can do it all! The entire leadership team of the company feels like minions as they follow his every turn and twist along the way. They believe (and I agree) that their careers have been totally marginalized, as they will never be able to satisfy him. They go from one fire drill to the next and, in essence, they all have been relegated to being his gopher. Why even show up in this sort of environment? I wouldn’t!

My suggestion to her: Get the hell out of Dodge – and the faster the better. This CEO is in the weeds, micro-managing every facet of the company and not growing his team. I’m not sure if it’s pure ego, lack of communication skills or if he has the “white horse syndrome” and prefers to ride in and save the day instead of teaching and coaching so his team can grow and excel in whatever they do. Apparently he has always been that way and likely always will be. Best to part ways and soon. A one man band always sounds the same. Not pretty.

Leadership is not all about “my way or the highway” and that mentality will never help scale a company.  It just will not happen. Staying in the weeds is not a Good to Great strategy. CEOs should “lead, coach and mentor” and not worry about being the best “doer”. This sort of behavior will kill off the entire team, and one by one their careers will suffocate and die. When that happens (once they recognize it) they will leave.

Note to CEO’s: Lead, coach or mentor – and get out of the weeds!