Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Monday, Jun 30, 2003

Port Info

Group Sites

Mentor - Books
Columns - Reading Room

What makes honchos botch up things?

CEOs are falling faster than we carry `men at the helm'. "It is risky to be a CEO of a corporation today," says the blurb of Why CEOs fail, a book by David L. Dotlich and Peter C. Cairo, with forewords by Ram Charan and Robert Hogan. The back cover lists all "the 11 behaviours that can derail your climb to the top" — arrogance, melodrama, volatility, excessive caution, habitual distrust, aloofness, mischievousness, eccentricity, passive resistance, perfectionism and eagerness to please. Excerpts:

  • One of the toughest balancing acts in the leadership business is between confidence and too much confidence.

    If you are going to succeed as a leader, you need to have confidence in your abilities. If you fail as a leader, you may have too much confidence. This oversimplifies the concept of arrogance, but it hints at the fatal flaw that infects so many CEOs.

  • Leaders fail when they are routinely and philosophically cautious rather than situationally prudent. Overly cautious leaders give off clear signals that they are headed toward failure.

    The most obvious one is the inability to make a big decision when necessary. Subtler signs are — unwillingness to fire anyone, churn instead of movement (illusion of doing something by doing little things that do not entail much risk), and absence of strong opinions.

  • When aloof leaders are under stress, they often become withdrawn. This is where things go off course. When they isolate themselves during crises or retreat from people who are desperately in need of their guidance, they are likely to fail. Of course, they do not see these aloof behaviours as a problem.

  • Perfectionistic CEOs often ignore the big picture. They are so wrapped up in the little things that they lose sight of all the major developments around them. Perfectionism is crucial for certain professions and a small dose of it is useful for anyone in a position where mistakes can be literally or figuratively fatal.

    When this tendency causes a leader to lock in on the detail and lock out the real goal of the company or group, then it becomes a derailer.

  • The first step is to accept that you, that all leaders, are fallible. Although many corporations do not acknowledge it, their entire leadership ranks are made up of flawed human beings.

    What needs to be more openly acknowledged is that flawed human beings can still be great leaders.

    Read this book before you become a CEO.

    JFK story

    HE WAS an awkward speaker. Then he rose to become a brilliant politician with irresistible charm. He was the president of the US when he was assassinated.

    Yes, we are talking about John F. Kennedy. And the first authoritative single-volume life of JFK to be written in nearly four decades is out. Robert Dallek draws upon firsthand sources, freshly unearthed documents, and never-before-opened archives to write An Unfinished Life that reveals Kennedy was far sicker than we ever knew.

    The portrait is of "a man who, because he knew how close he was to death, lived as much as he could — sometimes hurting others in the process." A few snatches:

  • In 1954, after a year in the Senate, when someone asked Jack, "What's it like to be a United States senator?" he said after a moment, "It's the most corrupting job in the world."

    He saw senators as all too ready to cut deals and court campaign contributors to ensure their political futures.

  • Kennedy described "two central weaknesses in our current foreign policy:

    First, a failure to appreciate how the forces of nationalism are rewriting the geopolitical map of the world... and second, a lack of decision and conviction in our leadership... which seeks too often to substitute slogans for solutions."

  • Kennedy's strategy on civil rights became public immediately after he took office.

    As he watched coast guard marchers troop by during the inaugural parade, he noted the absence of blacks in their ranks and instructed his treasury secretary, who had jurisdiction over the coast guard, to bring them into that branch of the service.

  • Kennedy's back pain was his greatest physical distraction, not simply because it made it harder to focus his attention but because it was more difficult to hide from a public that though of him as athletic and robust.

    Something as simple as bending over a lectern to read a speech caused him terrible pain.

  • Oswald fired three shots from the sixth-floor window of the Depository building at the President riding directly below in an open car. The second bullet struck Kennedy in the back of the neck.

    Were it not for a back brace, which held him erect, a third and fatal shot to the back of the head would not have found its mark.

    At 1:00 p.m. central time, half an hour after the attack, doctors at Dallas's Parkland Memorial Hospital told Mrs Kennedy that the President was dead.

    A book that is worth reading to the finish.

    (Books courtesy: Fountainhead, Chennai. E-mail:


    "Last time you borrowed money to buy Harry Potter."

    "Yes, I want another loan."

    "What for!"

    "To buy the book `Why repay old loans?'"

    D. Murali

    Article E-Mail :: Comment :: Syndication

  • Stories in this Section
    ABC of colas, greens and junk food

    LTC in 2003, and in 2004 too?
    KM in India Inc
    When it is time to showcase, play it `fair'
    What makes honchos botch up things?

    The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
    Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | The Sportstar | Frontline | The Hindu eBooks | Home |

    Copyright 2003, The Hindu Business Line. Republication or redissemination of the contents of this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of The Hindu Business Line