Attitude Adjustment

By Lear, Robert W. | Chief Executive (U.S.), November 1995 | Go to article overview
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Attitude Adjustment

Lear, Robert W., Chief Executive (U.S.)

My young friends define someone with an attitude in slightly different ways. In general, however, they refer to a person who is cocky, arrogant, or over-imbued with the importance of his or her position. If they met some of the CEOs I have been running across lately, I suspect they would say these executives have "an attitude."

Why is it that some perfectly normal, well-balanced people begin to change their ways as soon as they become CEOs? What is it about the chief executive's job that inspires sudden delusions of grandeur?

The symptoms of the "attitude syndrome" are all too familiar:

Develop an all-consuming passion for the company airplane. Fly in it everywhere, including your vacation home, which becomes your "off-premise office." Use it even when it is more convenient to take the shuttle. (Is this the same guy who established the new rule about everyone flying economy class?)

* Redecorate the corner office. Do it grandly with expensive art and a fancy decorator. Hire two secretaries.

* Drive to work in a stretch limo. Better yet, move the whole headquarters to a more convenient location for you. Publicly state that these are simply rewards for all your hard work.

* Join everything that is exclusive and expensive. Go to endless outings. Sit on innumerable daises. Lunch with the jet set. Arrange for press interviews; after all, articles about you are good publicity for the company.

* Start talking more and listening less. Have people come to see you instead of going to them. Run meetings with a fixed agenda and an iron hand. Deal more and more with only those who directly report to you. Then you won't have to hear from people who might disagree with you.

Pack the board. As directors retire, stack the board with your personal friends or those who do business with your company. Don't pay attention to all that corporate-governance crap you read about in business magazines. Just make a fair profit, pay reasonable dividends, and the shareholders will be happy.

It is no coinci dence that some of this sounds like William Agee, ex-CEO of Morrison Knudsen; or the late Peter Grace, former head of W.R. Grace; or Lee lacocca, the onetime high-flying CEO of Chrysler. Their "attitudes" have been widely publicized.

But I am really talking about the much larger group of CEOs who are just beginning to develop these same delusions of grandeur and grandiloquence in one form or another.

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