Samir’s Selection 02/14/2016 (p.m.)
The four lies a successful chief executive must always tell | Lucy Kellaway
The first rule is never to admit to not enjoying the job. When you are in charge you cannot say that you are struggling or stressed or having any negative feelings about the work at all. Instead, you must insist that the job is stimulating and going well and that you are entirely in control.The second truth you are forbidden from uttering is that you don’t like or rate anyone at all in your organisation. “My chairman is an idiot,” is something often thought but which must never be uttered. Even less can you disparage anyone who works for you.Third, bad-mouthing your company is out of the question. You are responsible for it and for everyone who works there and you have to be chief cheerleader at all times, however unnatural that feels…There are only two times when it is possible to say something negative: when you can blame it on your predecessor (and then it’s open season) and when you have a plan up your sleeve for improving matters. Even then, though, such talk can be dangerous.The final thing my friend has learnt never to tell anyone is that he’s not sure. As chief executive, you cannot say: “We are making this takeover/ restructuring/slashing costs but I’m not entirely sure if it will work.” Instead, you have to present every initiative as a no-brainer.Not only is doubt over strategy forbidden but admissions of self doubt are ruled out too. Even though almost all chief executives privately admit to being riddled with it – and those that don’t are the ones we worry about – they must not ever say: “I’m not sure I’m up to this” for fear they will be taken at face value…According to my friend, the good thing about pretending to be having a great time is that it helps you convince yourself that you actually are; the bad thing is that it is thoroughly alienating. If you can’t tell your friends what you really feel, there isn’t much point in having friends.As I headed back to work it occurred to me that his list was not complete. There is a further taboo and over this lunch he had comprehensively broken it. That fifth thing you can never say as a chief executive is: “My job meansthat I sometimes have to lie and pretend.” There is only one acceptable view of what it takes to be a great leader, which is that you have to be honest with yourself and others at all times. This simply is not true. A chief executive can only afford to be honest up to a point. In fact, the scope for honesty is so curtailed that the job is quite unsuited to anyone who, like my friend, is too addicted to saying what they really think.
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