There are five buckets into which any CEO will fall. The first is the short-tempered and abusive person who moves with a scowl and does not acknowledge the presence of anyone. He is more interested in yelling at everyone in sight and believes that unless you kick the rear of his subordinates, nothing works. He also loves to put people down because no one can oppose him and such a person is also a domineering one who controls the Board. There is nothing like humiliating your seniors in public for that gives you a sense of superiority and reinforce the fact that you are the boss. Therefore, abuse on a one-on-one basis is less effective and remains a bilateral deal that no one knows.
He will call even his senior employees ‘fools’ and ‘good for nothing’ and could slip into verbal abuse. The others do not mind because they are used to it and also know that he does not mean what he says and they are invariably rewarded by him for hearing him out. You can spot this character in your office easily. I have worked in a company where the CEO would tell all his colleagues (some of who were employees at the Board level) that they had no heads and he had to do all the thinking. But these gentlemen took it so stoically that it literally went past them like the idle wind. But all of them were rewarded with very large ESOPs and extended tenure. It is not surprising that such ill temper is well tolerated and assimilated into the system such that one becomes immune to abuse.
Another CEO I had worked with was fond of abusing seniors to the extent that some of them quit the organization. And he had justified his foul talk by saying that he came from a region where they abused each other and also had a foreign bank lineage where swearing was as common as using a preposition.
The second type is the haughty CEO who believes in the caste system which has developed in the organization. There is a hierarchy and he is conscious of it…. Such a person will make sure that there is a separate floor where the chosen ones sit because he discusses only with this lot, who could go with fancy designations like Executive directors or Presidents or Senior General Managers or even DMD and JMD. Here it is clear that you keep reporting to the next hierarchy and as it pecks upwards, it reaches this echelon and then to him. It is only if he is very impressed that he would call an individual from below. You can again spot such a person because he will not acknowledge anyone who sits on any other floor. There will be a nod to the security and probably the receptionist – he needs to check if any visitor has come, but otherwise the others do not matter. There would be a special lift if possible for this floor which no one is allowed to use. A special dining room with expensive furnishing would also go with this behaviour.
The CEO of an organization I worked in the financial centre of Mumbai had a lift dedicated to him and others could only look but not travel. His time was precious and saying hello to anyone who did not matter was a waste of time. There was a small group who all had similar academic backgrounds from the prestigious IIM-A who could have access to him.
The third kind is a rarity – a friendly one who normally would be younger who mixes with everyone. Such a person would be in a flat organization where there is little distance between all the colleagues. People are junior or senior but work together like a team and their seniority is rewarded with compensation or designation, but then at the end of the day they are all equal with the CEO having the additional responsibility of owning the balance sheet.
Fourth is the professional, who maintains fixed timings and meets everyone who he works with. Hierarchy is respected but is not the be-all and end-all. Such a person will call and talk to everyone when there is work and hear out everyone in a meeting. This man is generally liked by the staff and is fun to work with. He will not get too close but is approachable and maintains a cool head and rarely lets out steam.
Last is the moody CEO who is doubtful about everything. He cannot take decisions and wants advice but still has to show that he is the boss and cannot ask for it. He has probably reached where he is due to reverse gravity but does not accept it. These people are hard to guess as they can blow their tops any time and make a nuisance of themselves. They do not trust anyone and will cross-question you on everything. For instance, they want to make sure that you met the person you were supposed to meet. They would like to get the details of everything that transpired in the meeting you attended instead of just the gist which is what normally CEOs have time for. In short they are insecure.
The CEO is the centre of gravity and occupies a very important position in the organization. This character moulds the culture of the company. A tough and abusive person will make everyone behave the same way. This is so because if you are bashed up day in and day out by your boss you tend to behave the same with your subordinates to emancipate yourself from such stress. A kind-hearted and liberal CEO also makes the company a fun place to work and actually gets the staff to identify with the company and work better. A suspicious CEO will create a culture of suspicion where no one believes anything until they see it in front of themselves.
It is not surprising that when the CEO finally leaves the organization … you can see how many remember him. Those who manage to bond are always welcomed by the staff and treated with respect. In fact, they can also have favours done by just asking and the others will be willing to oblige. The more termagant ones are never welcome and avoided even if an appearance is made. Any favour asked is normally shirked with lots of reasons given. That’s so because once you are disliked and out of office no one wants to see or speak to you. This is what all CEOs should realize and remember their term is for a fixed tenure but the relationships built or destroyed will decide whether or not the person walks the road of loneliness.
Excerpted with permission from Corporate Quirks: The Darker Side of the Sun by Madan Sabnavis, published by KBI Publishers