Remember John Denver’s song? I have a modern version.
A colleague who was coaching in a large, complex organization, found out that the president required coaching, but that he needed someone accustomed to top level executives, and not someone working with subordinates. My colleague recommended me.
The president and I spoke by phone, hit it off well, and he made a big show of flying to see me on the corporation’s jet. I picked him up at the private air terminal in Providence in my Bentley, and he told me he also had one. While I had ordered mine custom-built and waited four months, he had chosen an early model off the showroom floor and paid a “premium” of $15,000 over the sticker price.
Off we go to my home, and I discover that he has problems with the organization’s founder—still his boss—and with a subordinate who covets his job and is openly hostile in public venues. We talked about what was needed, got along well, and then I had to rush him back to his jet, because he had a dinner meeting from whence he came. He had come for two hours, but said he was satisfied and looked forward to my proposal, which I sent the next day via Fedex.
The highest option in my proposal was $45,000 per month for an estimated three-month minimum. That was completely consistent with analogous work I had been doing for over a decade at top levels.
When I followed up, he told me that the highest option was, indeed, the only one that made sense for him, but that he could never justify it. Employees would talk, his rival would use it against him, and his boss might question it. I asked how anyone else would know what he was paying me, and he said, “Accounting people talk.” I then told him that he could pay me out of his own pocket, which was not unheard of. He told me he couldn’t afford that.
I don’t know what that airplane round trip cost with him as the sole passenger, or what his travails with his subordinate and boss were costing the operation, or how he can pay for a quarter million dollar car out of his own pocket but not invest in his own future. I do know that we often run into this type of cognitive dissonance: The top person, the avatar, the leader, is afraid of what others will say and do.
Let this be the lesson: I’ve been in hundreds of executive suites, and the politics, emotions, assumptions, internecine strife, and bad decisions are no different from the sales force or the factor floor. They’re just playing with larger amounts of money.
You can fly high without riding high.
© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.