Conquering Executive Vulnerabilities
by Mark J. Campbell

As an executive coach, I have discovered three vulnerabilities that are at the root of many executive failures. The good news is that executives can learn to identify these foibles and turn them into opportunities for high achievement.

The Extinction of the Cigar Store Totem

As a young child, I remember being frightened by a very serious looking wooden carving of a Native American Chief at a country store. Today, these once abundant carvings are difficult to locate. It is my hope that, like the Cigar Store Totem, we will find fewer executives who take pride in projecting an intimidating demeanor and believe that emotions have no place in the world of business. Imagine a staff meeting where the CEO, with a cold stare, rebuffs the anger of a direct report. With one glance, the CEO has conditioned this individual and his colleagues that this emotion is not welcome in their meetings. He has trained these individuals to hold back valuable emotions that could help build unity, trust and open sharing of information.

When employees exhibit emotions such as anger, frustration, sadness and exhilaration, executives should practice reserving any comment or expression that might discourage such feelings. Naturally, I'm not referring to emotion that is over the top and disruptive to business. By relaxing the close monitoring of emotions, executives soon discover that the people around them have a substantial increase in energy and commitment.

The Demise of the Designated Hero

Several years ago, following one of my management workshops, I was approached by a young engineer who commented on the leadership style of her company by stating, "Superman and Superwoman are dead." She understood that those executives who could not trust and embrace her ideas and those of her colleagues were doomed to failure. The outdated super-hero dressed in the garb of Rambo, Wonder Woman or the Terminator is fast becoming a relic.

The successful executives I have worked with understand the value of drawing on the talent that surrounds them. They fully appreciate the folly of trying to master the multitude of disciplines they manage. In my experience, those who go it alone eventually drive out the most talented members of their staff leaving only average performers who will never tell the emperor that "he has no clothes." Take some risks and invite talented people to spread their wings and flex their muscles. Release the heavy burden of always having to be strong, right, invulnerable and perfect. The result will be an organization that is creative and vital. In addition, you will discover that it doesn't have to be so lonely at the top.

The Dangers of an Occupational Hobby

You may have observed that when "the going gets hot" some executives retreat to their "occupational hobby." Consider the sales VP who hits the road to call on clients rather than address strategic issues back in the office. Possibly you know of a manufacturing executive who finds dealing with a line stoppage more enticing than addressing the demands of a long-range plan. These examples describe a common human tendency to retreat to familiar tasks that give us temporary relief when faced with complex challenges.

So what's the solution to this executive vulnerability? Ongoing self-management is the only antidote. Executives and other professionals must develop sharp awareness for the signs of the creeping anxiety associated with this phenomenon. Take a few minutes to identify the root cause of your increasing restlessness. Create an outline of the symptoms describing the issue. Brainstorm with key staff members to develop alternative solutions. Going public with this problem will force you to avoid escaping to your own occupational hobby.

Recommended Reading:

You may find the following book helpful for additional for additional information on Executive Vulnerabilities - The Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lenconi, Published by Jossey-Bass, 1998. Lenconi uses the story of Andrew, a fictional CEO, to describe five temptations that can easily undermine the efforts of executives.

Mark J. Campbell started his coaching practice in 1995 following a successful career of twenty-five years in corporate human resources. Mark worked for several large companies including Northrop Grumman and The Foxboro Company. Marks' client list includes: Boston Scientific, General Dynamics, Texas Instruments, Fleet Bank, The Foxboro Company, New England Gas Association, MA Association of Community Health Centers, Eurotherm Controls, and Northeastern University. Mark earned a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from Boston College and a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration from Northeastern University. He is a member of the Society of Professional Consultants and the Human Resource Management Group. Contact Mark Campbell at .

Many more articles in Executive Performance in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2003 by Mark J. Campbell. All rights reserved.

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