I have a complicated relationship with Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross, the world's most dogged student of CEO reputations. The love comes from the fact that she's the world's most dogged student of the confluence of CEOs' reputations and corporate reputations.
Dr. Gaines-Ross conducts and collects research that agrees with my belief that the human beings who run organizations are largely responsible for corporate reputations, good and bad—and should be.
So I consider her an ideological ally, and I've made her Reputation Xchange one of my recommended blogs.
But our relationship hasn't gone any deeper than that, because I have trust issues with someone who can bring her fingers to type consecutive half-truths like those Gaines-Ross spouted on her blog last week.
In wrapping up the results of her own recent study—which yielded less-than-newsworthy findings like, many current senior executives would like to be CEOs someday despite the widespread contempt in which corporate bosses are currently held—Gaines-Ross concluded:
good news is that our next generation of CEOs appears eager to sit in
the corner suite and for the right reasons (making a difference,
growing business and meeting the toughest challenges of the day). CEOs
have their work cut out for them but I think we will see reputation
recovery in due time. In fact, when we asked when we’d see CEO
reputations redeemed, it looks like 2013 is the year. Mark it on your
calendars. I did on mine.
So status, power or wealth no longer motivate would-be CEOs. Instead, these days people want to be CEOs for the very same reasons one might want to join the Peace Corps or start an organic farming co-op or teach school in the hollers of West Virginia.
And furthermore, we're to trust these Cub Scouts when they predict, without any evidence or even reasoning, that CEOs will be held in higher esteem by American society in 2013.
Look, I understand: A researcher can't release survey results with the headline, "Future executives as full of b.s. and unfounded optimism as current old fools on high stools."
But neither does one have to say exactly the opposite of what one knows to be true.
Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross, keep doing your research, keep studying CEOs and corporate repuations—but also: Keep it real.
“Future executives as full of b.s. and unfounded optimism as current old fools on high stools.”
I’d read THAT article.
Corporate America is not a democracy. But if it were — would you vote for your organization’s current cadre of executives and management? Who would rise to the fore if it were left to the people?
David Murray says
And how would they manage differently if employees had a represenative board vote on their contract and bonus?
Dear God Diane!! Let’s not go CRAZY here!!
If we let the employees VOTE a senior team in, we’d have a cadre of illiterate, chat-language-speaking, self-absorbed twits . . . Oh, hmmmm, well . . .
Leslie Gaines-Ross says
Thanks for the gracious comments about my work on corporate and CEO reputations and recommending my blog ReputationXchange.
I want to respond to your critique regarding our research on CEOs’ reputations. The intent behind the survey was to look at how executives view the corner office today. Many of the surveys that exist today are among consumers (56% of consumers want to be a business leader according to a new survey) and it is increasingly hard to find surveys among senior executives. It is just too expensive to survey that audience. Since CEOs are the ultimate guardians of reputation and shape the destinies and fortunes of companies, it is important that we understand how robust the talent pipeline is now. In light of greater government intervention and scrutiny in business today, filling the CEO position post-baby boomers is going to be critical to US competitiveness. I was actually surprised to learn from our survey that nearly half were still interested in the position. I had expected the percentage to about one-third. So that was newsworthy and surprising to me as a CEO watcher.
Regarding the reasons why executives wish to be CEO, the rewards of compensation, power and prestige as you point out did surface in the verbatim responses but were fewer than responses focused on making a difference and being challenged. My sense has always been that executives have built up fairly decent nest eggs before getting to the chief executive position and although money is one of the reasons for wanting the job, most of these executives are not going to starve without having CEO in their title. In fact, they would probably do better staying at their line jobs for maintaining job security than taking on the shortening shelf life of CEOs today.
I also agree with the finding from our survey that reputations will improve by 2013 or thereafter. Once the economic turmoil ends and companies begin to perform again, we will all be following those CEOs and companies who are first out of the gate. There will be more than a handful of esteemed CEOs who invested in bad times and squarely met the challenges of the day.
Thanks again for commenting on our results. And for the sake of all of our wealth and health, let’s hope that 2013 gets here soon. Like you, I will mark it on my calendar.
David Murray says
Thanks, Leslie, I very appreciate your comment. We still have solid differences in how we express why CEOs do what they do, and probably in how we think about it.
I think of CEOs as Brett Favre: They know they’ve had their best and brightest successes behind them, but they can’t hang it up, because this is all they know. I don’t think they care if they play for the Vikings or for Citibank. They just want to keep playing.
But you know these guys and gals better than I do, and study them more closely. One day we’ll have a long dinner in Chicago or New York and talk all this over at length.
Let’s keep talking,
Ron Shewchuk says
I’d fly to either city to be part of that conversation.
David Murray says
No need, Ron. When the economy clears up, Dr. Gaines-Ross and I will meet you at the Banf Springs Hotel.
Ron Shewchuk says
It’s a deal. Drinks are on me.
Hey, wait, I’m in Chicago!
But this brings me to a pet peeve about surveys. My theory, unsubstantiated of course, is that people self-report what they want you to think on surveys. My example is usually that, had anyone surveyed me as a teenager, I’d have said, “Why, yes, when I’m not doing drugs, I’m having sex.” I wouldn’t want to be uncool, you know, even anonymously. So I wonder how many executives want people to think they are benevolent world saviors vs. power-hungry leaders. If that makes sense. Personally, I’d want myself and the group to come off as benevolent. Especially now.