Being an executive is a tough job, no doubt. However there are a set of things any rational person has to believe about executives, that don’t match their behavior. Sometimes there are good reasons for this, sometimes not.
So for fun, here’s my top ten list of things Bad VPs never say.
- It’s my fault. Many leaders fear admitting failure for their projects, much less taking personal responsibility for them. But if a VP says this and means it, they absorb blame, freeing their orgs to focus on learning from failure, rather than pointing fingers. “It’s my fault” or “I’m accountable for that” are power building phrases. You bring power to you when you re-establish responsibility for things you’re responsible for, especially in failure.
- I’m ending project X and here’s why. It can easy to let misguided or inefficient projects live are far too long. One of the roles of a VP is to be decisive, and make clear decisions, including the decision to end efforts that aren’t working to free up resources for other projects. The VP has to find a way to do the right thing (end the project) but not whitewash it. The failure however is that if too much face is saved, the lessons from the failed project are not learned by others (and those failures will be repeated).
- I’m firing Y and here is why. See above.
- Team A is more important than Team B. Like parents, most VPs tend to project equality over things that are not equal (“You’re all my favorite children” – Sure we are). In reality every VP knows which teams matter more to his organization and in private treats them as such. The fear is that people on team B will be upset if they learn their status – but I’ve seen the opposite. If team A is clearly more important towards the overall goals, and team B wants the org to succeed, it’s in their interest to prioritize around team A when appropriate. There’s no shame in playing a strong supporting role. Every team sport in history teaches that some roles, at some times, are more important. You win or lose based on how well everyone plays their role at the right time.
- The CEO and I disagree about… In rhyme: Leaders fear showing dissension, despite signs for those paying attention. Hearing a VP politely discuss a disagreement with his superior makes it acceptable for his reports to acknowledge their disagreements with him. But if instead he pretends everything is great, there’s a mismatch between what’s said and what’s believed. People know instinctively when something is wrong: decisions that don’t line up. E-mails that hint at contradiction. it’s a relief to hear it articulated, even if only in passing, especially if how that disagreement is being resolved is made clear.
- My morale is low. What happens when the leader, the figurehead, doesn’t believe? I want to argue that there are ways to communicate this to a team without killing their morale, but this may be something best held in confidence. Many of the things we wish VPs would say may be based on to only those in their confidence: a handful of people in their organizations. However, there is every way for a VP to communicate his/her concerns. A short list of top concerns every month or quarter, presented with the right vibe, can go a long way towards surfacing solutions to them.
- No, I don’t want to be on the cover of Time. To want to be a VP requires an ego. No person in the history of the corporation has been forced, at gunpoint, into executive status. All VPs are highly visible and either enjoy it or think that they deserve it: to decline attention would contradict much of their sense of value. Having an ego isn’t necessarily bad: being in the press brings attention to the company, which is an asset if handled right. But some executives confuse media attention for themselves with the job of running a healthy organization whose products and services are worthy of media attention.
- I will work as many hours as you do. While it’s true that executives often have intense schedules, it’s rare to see them point to line level employees and say “I will match your average week hour for hour.” I’ve never seen it. Especially during crunch time when overtime is common, seeing a VP put in similar hours and make similar commitments as the org is a tremendous morale boost. I have seen senior managers stay around and do near all-nighters on crunch night, and the effect it always had, if done without fanfare, was powerful. It’s something everyone talks about the next day.
- Here’s exactly how much I earn and what my bonus structure is. I’ve often wondered what would happen if corporations had transparent pay scales – public jobs often do (teachers, senators, police officers). No law prevents an employee from posting their paychecks on their office door. In specific to executives, knowing how they’re rewarded explains tons to their organization. Good VPs do communicate what their personal goals are, but knowing even the non-financial elements of their rewards (what are they rewarded on?) might be more useful to the organization that what’s in the project vision. (Of course, this would require that CEOs define the rewards. Begging for a list of “ten things CEOs never say”).
- What did I miss? What are other things VPs never (but should) say? And why?