Be careful what you wish for
- Johann Redelinghuys
- 18 Feb 2013 01:47 (South Africa)
In the past few years we have seen an inordinate number of CEO comings-and-goings. It may be, post the 2008 high point, that the shape of the market has changed, and with it what is now required of the CEO. It may also be that in the fast-moving, highly regulated business world, with its relentless transparency and avid shareholder activism, there is little tolerance for anything less than excellent performance, and the stress can become unbearable.
Private sector CEOs of listed companies whose careers have ended in the past few years include Neville Nicolau (Amplats), Dave Brown (Impala), Cynthia Carol (Anglo), Brian Bruce (Murray & Roberts), Nic Dennis (Tiger), Steve Booysen (Absa), Carlos dos Santos (Metcash before it imploded),Larry Lipschitz (Super Group), Tjaart Kruger (Afrox), Peter Moyo (Alexander Forbes), Tony Philips (Barloworld), David Coutts-Trotter (Sun International), Pinky Moholi and Jeffrey Hedberg (Telkom), Pieter Uys (Vodacom) and Nic Wentzel (Reunert), among others.
Moving through the revolving doors of the public sector there have been almost too many to mention, but think about Jacob Maroga (Eskom), Sizwe Mzimela and Vuyisile Kona (SAA) and Phil Molefe (SABC).
And now the board of SAA is hunting for yet another CEO. What has it learned from past experience? What is it looking for? And would any competent person in their right mind actually take it on?
Forget for a moment which of these trophy CEOs retired, or left of their own volition, or were “managed” out, or who buckled under the strain of the corporate politics. The fact is that your lifespan as a CEO is less likely to end in a happy and fulfilled retirement. If you are up for it, prepare for a short and often sharp tenure of just a few years. No long-term sailing into the sunset anymore.
And you may need a different set of skills to be successful.It used to be drive, business experience, a persuasive personality and a good understanding of the numbers. Now, CEOs no longer just have to manage the business and an occasional crisis, they have to cope with relentless pressure, accelerating complexity and the overburdening requirements of compliance.
In a paper quoted in the Harvard Business Review recently, Justin Menkes, the author of Better Under Pressure, describes research he undertook to determine and examine the coping mechanisms of successful CEOs. His study group comprised 200 candidates for the CEO role in a number of major US corporations. He comes to the conclusion that there are three vital attributes that now differentiate the top performers; they are: “realistic optimism”, “subservience to purpose” and “the ability to find order in chaos”. He says great leaders have the ability to increase “the discretionary effort” of their people. They must know how to bring out the best in themselves and in others.
And that’s not all. A major life skill that we all need, and one for which CEOs in particular are held responsible, is that of managing expectations. Managing the increasing demands made by shareholder activism and delivering a satisfactory performance every quarter, has now become the endless mountain that the CEO has to climb. New developments in technology and the social media mean that CEOs are now working, and in constant contact with their whole universe, just about all the time.Even relatively minor blips on the technology front cause exasperated outbursts because we have come to expect excellent performance from everyone, and from ourselves, all the time.Building what used to be called a “balanced life” is, for most, just a dream.The expanding stakeholder constituency makes its own demands.
Instead of fighting and paying the price to get on to the obstacle course toward the CEOs job, increasing numbers of bright, talented people coming out of business schools and graduate programmes, are opting instead to start their own businesses. Or they work out a way to be self employed as a consultant or contract worker, giving them time to do other things that will enrich their lives and give them broader experiences. These are the new “lifestyle careers”.
The boards of the big groups and the state-owned enterprises have a diminishing pool of top candidates to feed in to their succession programmes and the frequently unfilled CEO seats that bedevil company performance.
Is it not sad that the bar for good performance has been raised so high that in business leadership, as in sport and other areas of competitive achievement, the performers get beaten down by stress and give in to various kinds of “performance enhancement” measures, or they simply throw in the towel? The few who make it to the top tend not to stay there very long.
Winning is a game that seems to have changed forever. DM
- Red alert: Our growing culture of dependency
- Weep for our universities!
- A social covenant: The theory vs. the practice
- Giving transformation a bad name
- What the heck, Jonathan Jansen?
- Suspect mayors – at the heart of poor service delivery
- Capitalism on the skids
- The land issue - and the hooligan now in Parliament
- World Soccer: Combating corruption from the bottom up
- Marshalling our post-executive network
- SAA’s Board is a festering sore
- IQ: Outdated, irrelevant, in need of review
- Leadership’s lack of wisdom
- Inequality: the eternal conundrum
- Wake up, Irvin Jim – it’s 2014
- The dark side of the Eskom boardroom power struggle
- A faultline in the psyche of the nation’s men
- Twenty years on, the ANC is still not ready to govern
- Universities should not be state-controlled institutions
- Do race and ethnicity still override intellect and good judgement?
- Millions of ‘job opportunities’? Pull the other one!
- Hands off? Brian Joffe is faking it
- Should the workers have a voice on the board of directors?
- Time for the minister of police to hand in his resignation?
- More freelancing means fewer jobs
- The wealth gap and inequality cannot be ‘fixed’
- Is there a military option for school leaver unemployment?
- Retire the idea of retirement!
- The textbook, talented leadership of Mr Julius Malema
- The down – and up – side of recklessness and greed
- Race and gender issues: not going anywhere
- Sloppy board governance: Failing South Africa’s critical executive leadership
- Low efforts, low satisfaction: Combatting the new workplace epidemic
- Shame on the racist rant from the Black Business Council!
- The visits of French president and Polish prime minister: a scattering of welcome fairy dust
- Uncomfortable questions about Sasol’s hired gun
- Manufacturing is not our route to riches
- The Minister is chasing away jobs!
- The Age of the Sovereign Individual is upon us
- ‘I applied my mind’: a welcome comment from the President
- Stressful news about executive stress
- The comic opera at the SABC board plays on
- The right way is not always the best way
- Double benefit of focus on farming
- Indecision is crippling us
- An ‘African MBA’ would be a mistake
- The inequalities of the wage gap won’t go away
- Privileged access: no longer just for the top dogs
- Are there different degrees of CV fraud?
- Is the ‘born free’ generation really so free?
- Labour Brokers are here to stay
- Unemployment can be beaten
- Top CEOs are feeling the pinch
- Performance anxiety: The curse of our time
- Black Economic (Dis)empowerment: It’s time to rethink our strategy
- Why mobile phones are more important than toilets
- She was a lady with a vision
- South Africa should beef up its strengths
- Jacko Maree has failed in the most important task of a CEO
- Bridging the gap: Time to embrace immigrant skills
- Gender diversity on boards still undermined by stereotyping, male-dominated networks
- Be careful what you wish for
- Please stop the mindless nonsense of trying to ‘create’ entrepreneurs to satisfy some extravagant political agenda!
- The heavy hand of government is everywhere
- The good people at Standard & Poor's may not be aware of all our resources
- Our systems of education and first-rung employment are broken
- Only disruptive leadership can achieve real change
- 'Shooting from the hip' is now the norm - and deeply damaging
- Our leaders' confused moral compass
- Government ownership: Watch out for the collapse of independence
- US and South Africa: Leading in disaster and disastrous leadership
- CEO departures and the 'perfect storm' in the boardroom
- You can't play the 'happy game' without hope and expectations
- A major leadership resource, ignored in the new South Africa
- The value of the people who create value
- Living the paradox: Life in South Africa
- A leader without a vision gets nothing done
- It’s spring! It's a good time for cleaning up our act
- So, do we want to be a global player or not?
- Big business: A critical piece missing from Manuel's plan
- Enduring values cannot be legislated
- Being a CEO - and playing the leadership game - is tough
- Career Management 101: Don't send a CV!
- The shifting sands of executive payouts
- The Perils of “Young Blood”
- Gender Diversity: Good for Business
- Nationhood: Our fragile national self-esteem
- Employment: Make Peace with the Gig Economy
- Crime is not the real fear of white people
- Dilemmas of the South African Diaspora
- Be careful what you use to vote for whom, and when and why
- Golden Schmolden Years
- Beware the Psychopaths
- Executive salaries are determined by supply and demand. It's not a conspiracy
- Reckless transformation is doing great damage
- Listen and stay close to your stakeholders
- Career Management 2020
- The New Non-Executive Director
- Working on a resolution toward a 'portfolio life'
- Facing the dilemmas of succession
- The misguided notion of 'job creation'
- High CEO turnover and the role of the chairman
- Life starts at 60, and not only for Alan Knott-Craig
- African leaders are misguided when they try to hold on to Africa for the Africans