We across the corporate world have read Pamela Slim’s open letter to CxOs. In her letter, she is telling those of us in the executive wings how we SHOULD treat our employees. She gives us a good whipping – even calling us oppressive. Yes, we have read it. After our initial anger with her tone and accusations, we decided to craft a more reasoned response.
We would like to note right up front that Pamela is not quite fair. Some of us are stellar performers – leaders people want to follow. But let’s go ahead and admit, most of us are gutless figureheads without any desire to really lead. We know it! We get it!
But since you have listened to her letter (and yes – we heard the cheer,) you owe it to us to listen to our side of the story.
First, remember that some time ago, we were where you are now. We were frustrated with upper management and the decisions they made. We felt like one day when we ran things, we would be different. We would listen to the people. We would make wise decisions based on something beyond this year’s profits. We would really take excellent care of our customers. We would reward performers. We would, in fact, be different!
The reality has set in. Now that we are at the top we realize we still do not have all that control we thought we would have. Now, instead of being dominated by the boss making stupid decisions, we now seem to have way too many bosses. We really thought we would be THE BOSS and be in control. We really did. Now we struggle daily to dance between the demands of the lawyers, the board, the customers, the stockholders, and even governments.
Our new fears. Just like you, we fear losing it all. Every day we wake up and look in the mirror and know today is the day we will be found out. People will realize we are incompetent. We will become not only unemployed – but publicly shamed. When one of you lose your job, you are a number. When we lose our job, publications list out all our mistakes. We are shamed. When you lose your job, you pretty much know you can find another – but not us. Will anyone let us lead again? Will anyone trust us again? We confidently and proudly proclaim that we can find other meaningful teams to lead, but underneath it all, we are scared to death. As bizarre as it may seem to you, we too fear living in a van down by the river.
We do not mean to proclaim that we are a bunch of imbeciles. We are not. We are highly intelligent people with lots of experience – just like you. Could you do our job? Probably many of you could. Would you be in the same situation after a few years? We bet our fat salaries on it!
Suffice it to say we could answer Pamela’s letter point by point. But, you need to understand the overall issue. Do we want to see the employee as assets – building them up and listening to them? Yes – many of us really do. When we were where you are now, we dreamed of such. But, when our investors are demanding short-term growth and profits we forget the people and even common sense at times. When the customer is demanding service, we demand it be met – even if you are on vacation. We have bought into the idea that the customer comes first. When the competition seems to be getting the edge on us we get crazy and change plans overnight telling all of you that we are leading the industry – but in fact, we are just responding and following.
Are we gutless leaders? I am afraid often we are. We have set aside the desire of being great leaders so we can be pragmatic.
The battles are too many to fight. Were we prepared for this job? No – not really. Most of us have few leadership skills. We were never taught that. In school, college, and MBA programs we too were taught to follow. To follow the leaders and to follow the processes.
But now that you have blasted us and applauded our faults – let us turn it back to you by addressing SOME of Pamela’s points.
- Why do we need to change the culture? Because we are told by consultants that is the thing to do! Do we think it sounds silly? Yes. But we also recognize there is a problem. The larger the organization is, the more culture is lost–and so often are results. So what are we after? We want to hire consultants who come in and promise us they can turn our angry mob into a machine where everyone is motivated and everyone performs to the top. We are all free to make it happen – and we, as the leaders, get to smile down from the top of the mountain. Sounds egotistical? Sure – but have you not dreamed the same thing? Do you want the same out of your teams you lead? I know you do. Pamela suggests the culture starts with our actions. But what actions? We really have lost control. We need someone to tell us what actions to take!
- The Godfather – Yes, we do get angry when you leave for new opportunities. We know it is shortsighted. We really do want the best for our people – but remember the fear. When you go, what will be revealed? And, quite frankly, often we are jealous. We know, we have already made it in your eyes – but we are strapped with serious golden handcuffs. We wish we could take the risk and run for the new opportunities, but we are stuck here trying to make this deal work.
- Walk around and talk to you. This is on our to-do list daily. That is the kind of leader we want to be. Some of us are just introverts and this is way out of our comfort zone. We do not hate you. We just prefer to be with people we know well. For the rest of us, we would love to be among the little people (whoops – did we let that slip?). But we have bigger things to do. Our bosses are demanding a ton from us. And when they are not – well we want to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Again – you would be no different.
- Want us to teach you to be rich? Forget it. We are not sure how we got here anyway. Look at the stats – a small percentage of people get rich doing what we do – but MOST get rich in business for themselves. Study how to do this and you will prosper – that is all we have to offer you. Think you are a better leader? Do it NOW.
We will not bore you with answering every point. We are already way too tempted to put this into a PowerPoint and call town meetings.
Now our advice to YOU.
- Think you are a better leader? Do it NOW. How would you deal with the points Pamela brings up? You cannot change us – we can promise you that. So now you take the mantle. How do you lead from where you are?
- Do not waste your life! Do something meaningful. Early on many of us were driven by passion and desire. It has landed us in nice places. Some of us continue to be led by the desire to have real meaning. The rest of us have succumbed to the life of luxury. That is our problem – but what about you? If you do not find working for us meaningful, then do something that is.
- Do not let fear control you. Listen to Pamela. We do have some concerns that many of you will get over your fears and look opportunity straight in the eye and go for it on your own. But in reality, we know it will be very few of you. So develop a solid plan and go for it. Fear will always exist. Remember, fear controls even us. You can still overcome! Do it now!