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|Friday, May 10, 2013|
BY TOM COX | BUSINESS TIPS CONTRIBUTOR
“Are you ready to be a transference object?”
Fred hesitated. The coffee shop seemed to become dead silent.
One week earlier, Fred had been offered a dream job, as part time CEO of a startup, working for a proven star CEO — now Chairman — who had also offered to mentor Fred.
This day, Fred is in the think-it-over, talk-it-over phase. Reaching out to every smart CEO and consultant he knows, asking “What should I ask? What should I think about? What conditions should I set? ”
And at this moment, in the frozen instant in that coffee shop, Fred is facing the one question that most worries him.
Because, you see, the boss is always wrong.
You’re a Transference Object
A “transference object” gets to receive all the misplaced emotions that people have. As the boss, you become the target of every resentment people have for any past authority figure. You are expected to know things you can’t know, to feel everyone’s feelings without being told, to know the subtext and the context of every issue.
And to the people over whom you have positional power, your every mistake can seem deliberate. Even the “mistakes” that aren’t mistakes — plus all the ones that are, and you’ll make lots of those — can easily look like you pointedly don’t care, or are deliberately malicious.
This transference effect shows up every time I do a 360-degree assessment of a CEO. For every two legitimate complaints, I’ll get one that’s utterly misplaced — an artifact of that person’s experience with some prior boss.
The Math is Against You
When you’re CEO, you will sometimes be wrong because the math is conspiring against you. This is a fact — an aspect of set theory.
Suppose your top three VPs are disagreeing about strategy, so you must decide. There are three roughly equally good choices. And you have to pick only one. Here’s how your team stands:
Notice that, no matter what you pick, you’re wrong.
Like the Organic Growth strategy? Jo loves that decision. Then you see Chris and Sandy put their heads together and frown — they each prefer Acquire over Organic Growth.
Suppose you agree to Acquire key competitors. Chris loves it. Now Sandy and Jo both look solemn and shake their heads. They both prefer Divest over Acquire.
Or suppose you go with Divest. You know Sandy would love it. And now you realize both Jo and Chris prefer something else more than Divest: Organic Growth.
You can’t win. And as CEO, you have to pick anyway. (CEOs are responsible for strategy. “All of the above” is not a strategy — it lacks focus.)
Pick one, and accept that 2/3rds of your team will be convinced you’re wrong. Or pick none, and get run over by your competitors.
This is no academic example — it’s what happened before DEC imploded and got acquired by Compaq. DEC could not decide whether to focus on chips, systems or PCs, tried to do all three, and failed.
You’re In the Dark
People hold information back from their bosses.
I watched as one business owner, Jan, innocently suggested that everyone in her small company — all male — bring their ‘wives and girlfriends’ to a social event. We all looked over at our newly hired gay engineer, Sven. Sven just smiled and said he would probably come alone this time. The rest of us looked at each other and didn’t say anything.
(We all asked Sven later if it was okay — was he offended? Bothered? No, he just thought it was funny.)
It grew into a running joke — everyone in the company knew Sven was gay, except the owner. It went on for over a year. Every mention of wives or girlfriends would be met with eye contact and a secret smile among the team members. Finally Sven felt he’d had enough of the joke and came out of the closet, much to the owner’s embarrassment.
I watched the team bond over their shared secret. This can happen in any team, even a high morale and high trust team.
Once you’re a boss, and doubly when you’re CEO, it’ll happen to you.
CEOs are Overly Optimistic
As a breed, CEOs are too optimistic. They are overly supportive of failing managers, are slow to fire senior people, and consistently over-estimate the up side potential of just about everything.
Humans are generally prone to a host of cognitive biases.
CEOs are more prone, and are less able to afford to be. Remember, CEOs’ mistakes get amplified, and other people pay the price.
Nobody Gives you the Full Picture
Everybody has an agenda, and except for your spouse or a professional coach, none of them shares your exact agenda. There’s nothing wrong with that, it just means you have to calibrate your listening. Constantly.
HR wants you to put new money into an HRIS so the firm can continue to do basically what it already does, only now with computers.
Sales wants to blame their performance on marketing or engineering (who blame back).
Everybody interprets the ambiguity of life from their perspective — evaluating themselves on their motives and everyone else on results.
So the CEO has to listen while not being partial. By one estimate, the most successful CEOs spend upward of 67% of their time listening to internal stakeholders.
How to Be Less Wrong
Tricks to handle all of this:
And #7 is, Embrace the Role. Accept that you’ll be a transference object, you’ll beheld to a higher standard than anyone else, and you’ll constantly be judged and found wanting.
If you wanted applause, you’d have joined the circus.
Tom Cox is a Portland area consultant and executive coach. He helps leaders exceed their business aspirations.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
BY JOE CORTRIGHT
We get the education we deserve.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY LINDA WESTON
In 1996, after a 17-year career in the destination marketing industry, where I gained national standing as the CEO of the Convention & Visitors Association of Lane County, I was recruited by the founders of a new professional basketball league for women. The American Basketball League (ABL) hoped to leverage the success of the 1996 USA women’s national team at the Atlanta Olympics — much like USA Soccer is now leveraging the U.S. Women’s National Team’s victory in the World Cup. The ABL wanted a team in Portland, and they wanted me to be its general manager.
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY SAM BLACKMAN
Storyteller-in-chief with the CEO and co-founder of Elemental Technologies.
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY CHRIS NOBLE
Whether you're stepping out to work or onto the track, Pacific Northwest shoe companies have you covered.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Which of the following would be most effective in reducing the cost of operating a public university in Oregon?
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
The Big One serves as an allegory for Portland, a city that earns plaudits for lifestyle and amenities but whose infrastructure is, literally, crumbling.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
BY JASON E. KAPLAN | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Greenpeace activists suspended themselves from the St. John's Bridge in an attempt to prevent a ship from heading to the Arctic.
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Transforming the culture of Oregon’s educational leadership.
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Every once in a while we receive a letter in the (fictional) mailbag that is tough to describe and quite compelling. This week, Isabel, the new HR manager at LabCo (and someone who is new to HR), wants to know whether she may fire the owner’s son for having an Oregon medical marijuana card. In passing, Isabel also makes a number of alarming admissions about her motivation. Here is Isabel’s nerve-racking question and our response to it.
Oregon Sick Leave is here, and changes to the federal white-collar worker regulations are on the way. This workshop will prepare you for both. We invite you to participate in an interactive discussion on how to start planning now for the future impact on your operations and finances.
Presented by OEN + CENTRL + YESpdx.
This Roundtable will cover numerous issues under the employer "shared responsibility" rules of the Affordable Care Act, including how to track the "full-time" status of variable-hour employees, temporary or seasonal employees, and employees who experience a change in status or a break in service. Additionally, we will provide a brief overview of Code sections 6055 and 6056, which require most mid-sized and large employers to submit their first information reports to the IRS in early 2016 regarding the health insurance coverage being offered to employees. We invite you to participate in an interactive discussion on how to prepare for the future impact of the shared responsibility rules on your operations and finances.