Most CEOs have never been in the military. Their idea of courage is facing the (so-called) stress of doing a deal or meeting Wall Street’s expectations. So, here’s a lesson in leadership that even the most junior second lieutenant knows and practices every day: you eat last. That’s right, whether it’s in the mess hall or in the field, when the troops line up for a meal, the commander takes his or her place at the end of the line.
Why? Because unlike management, leadership is the art of serving others in their collective quest for success. Eating last signals the leader’s recognition that victory is achieved by those he or she leads, and that the leader’s role, therefore, is to support and care for them as best they can.
Sadly, that perspective is exactly the opposite of the “me-first-and-only-me” approach of too many corporate executives today. Suckled on the financial myopia of graduate business schools and enticed by the payout pornography of executive compensation consultants, they have established themselves as the antithesis of our World War II combat leaders. They aren’t the Greatest Generation; they are the worst, the Worst Generation of leaders in American corporate history.
Does that unfairly smear all of the good CEOs out there? I don’t think so. Why? Because all too often even good CEOs tolerate lousy leadership—or no leadership at all—from those who work for them. We all know who they are:
- They’re the supervisors who can’t get their performance appraisals in on time or develop a detailed and accurate recruiting requirement for an opening in their own unit or spare a little time out of their busy, busy schedule to do a proper interview with an employment candidate.
- They’re the mid-level managers who give the CEO the RCA-dog nod about treating employees with respect and then require their staff to work on weekends, participate in teleconferences while on vacations, and put in needless face time on-the-job.
- They’re the executives who spout the corporate line about the importance of people and then devise or condone policies and procedures that treat employees like disposable widgets, just to make next quarter’s earnings target and preserve their own bonus.
They’re the “leaders” who put working men and women last. Their overriding concern is to take care of themselves, and everyone else goes to the end of the line. So, I think the best thing recruiters and job seekers can do is to oblige them. Put them at the head of the line of those for whom you will not work. Fire the fools from your career.
Sure, that may seem risky in such a lousy economy. But it’s not. Even in today’s historically depressed job market, you have options. If you’ve kept your expertise up-to-date, if you’re known as a reliable and significant contributor on-the-job, you still have (and will always have) your choice of employers—and your choice of CEOs, supervisors, managers and executives. All you have to do is exercise it.