A couple lifetimes ago, I was working for a company where the CEO, “Bob”, liked to have a weekly operations meeting. A weekly operations meeting with the CEO and operations leader is pretty normal in a technology company.
However Bob’s operations meeting were a little different than most. Rather than taking a detailed, hard-nosed, look into how manufacturing, test, and quality (the operations portion) of the company were doing, this operations meeting seemed to have one goal: Make the CEO feel good.
Problems were never brought up. In fact, Bob would get mad if you brought up a problem.
Bob liked to give an inspirational talk at the end of every operations meeting. Bob’s talks would be on leadership topics that we see regularly such as the importance of loyalty, or getting things done. Whatever.
The topics were fine, and the words Bob used in the leadership talks were fine, yet Bob’s talks fell flat again and again. Why, you ask? It was simple:
BOB, THE CEO, WASN’T REAL. HE WASN’T AUTHENTIC.
Bob’s daily actions were different than the words he used in his talks. Everyone in the room, except Bob, knew he was faking it as a leader.
I don’t care if you’re managing one person or 10,000. You have to walk the walk and talk the talk every day. It’s the difference between a leader and a faker.
It’s that simple. And this particular CEO was definitely a faker.
So where did Bob go wrong?
Here’s a list of where leaders go wrong, along with a couple of examples of that behavior direct from the narcissist CEO, Bob:
A. A Faker’s agenda is all about himself, not about you, and…
B. Fakers use words like “I” and “my” far more than “we” and “our”.
Bob would say things like, “How’s my division doing?” Or, he would say, “My revenue is coming in low.” His voice tone was wrong and the words were wrong.
He was talking about himself and his needs, not the company and the company’s needs. Worse, he was separating himself from the company.
You can tell a lot from someone who says “I” and “my”. I am sure there are exceptions, but it showed Bob’s true colors in this case.
You don’t want to become an “I’ers” or a “my’ers”. They are all about their agenda, and they only care about themselves, not the team.
As a leader, you want to make everything about your team, not you:
C. Fakers underestimate the people they work with, and
D. Fakers don’t lead by example. In fact, they don’t lead at all, and…
E. Fakers do the right thing only when it suits them.
One day, Bob asked me to start managing the VP of Engineering because Bob was unhappy with the VP of Engineering’s performance. The only problem was the VP of Engineering reported to the CEO, not me.
I asked Bob to change the reporting structure, so the VP of Engineering reported to me. Bob refused. Instead he said, “You have my support.”
It smelled like I was going to create an enemy I didn’t need. I said to Bob, “I think I am going to become a martyr if I do this.”
Bob’s answer was, “It’s good to be a martyr.”
Wow. How would you like working for someone who was willing to destroy your career?
Rather than leading by example, Bob failed to lead, choosing to ask someone else — in this case, me — to do something he wouldn’t.
In doing so, he made clear to me that he valued me the same way he valued other senior executives at the company — not at all.
I politely declined. I knew Bob didn’t have my back.
I could go on and on, but why bother?
As a leader it takes you a long time to build something up. You can tear it down in a day, or a moment.
All it takes is one misstep, one transgression and you will lose your team forever. You don’t want to work with a faker, and you don’t want to be one.
Leaders get the big picture that you’re leading others. Leaders are the polar opposite of fakers.
I’ll give you three quick examples:
A. A leader’s agenda is about what’s right for the team, even when it hurts them.
I watched Steve Combs, one of Maxim Integrated Products co-founders, regularly take bullets for his team. He took a nuclear blast one day for me when I worked for him.
We were in a meeting with Maxim’s CEO, the late Jack Gifford. I had made a mistake and I owned up to the mistake, but Gifford decided to turn on Combs.
It was my fault, my screw-up that got Steve clobbered. He never complained, and he never got mad at me about it.
Talk about building loyalty! Steve knew that as the leader, it was his responsibility to take the bullets.
Steve also was one of the best executives I ever worked with because he gave all the credit to his team (more on this subject later). Your team wants to get credit for their work, and Steve did this better than anyone I’ve ever worked with.
B. Leaders understand they are nothing if they don’t work with a great team.
The older I get, the more I realize you can’t achieve anything in business without a great team. You want to be a great leader? Then recruit a great team to work with.
A great team makes everything so much easier. It’s even better when the great team you’ve built is fanatical about what the company is doing.
C. Leaders give all the credit to the team when things are going well, and leaders take the blame, always, when things aren’t going well.
You understand as a great leader that you don’t need to worry about getting credit for success. Your board of directors and your investors are going to give you plenty of credit for the success of the company.
That’s the easy part. The tough part is having the guts to take the blame when things go wrong.
The reality is it is your fault when things go wrong because, after all, you hired these people. So own up to your company’s mistakes, and make sure they never happen again.
For more, read: Why You Need Fanatical Cofounders