I don’t think I’ve written about former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes here, because seeing the documentary about her convinced me she’s either innocent by reason of insanity, or guilty by reason of insanity. Either way, insanity. And this attempts to be a blog about the opposite.
But last week when a document surfaced after being submitted as evidence at her trial—her daily schedule and personal resolutions—I imagined this madness applied to more leaders than just Holmes.
Not that every leader gets up at 4:00 a.m. and eats “bannanna, whey” every day.
But a lot of leaders do try to micromanage their own behavior, often hiring coaches to help. It’s not self-actualization. It’s self-reengineering. And based on what we know about how souls and personalities get made, how could it not be generally doomed to failure.
Through trial and error, I have fashioned a job that rewards my temperament, for the most part. In running (and being run by) my small team and dealing with vendors and customers at Pro Rhetoric, LLC, I can usually be myself. In fact, the more of myself I give to these relationships, the better things usually go. That’s what people should try to do, it seems to me. Not train oneself to be someone else—but to find a place: an industry, an organization, a job—where one naturally belongs.
I hope you’ve done the same by now, too. But if you haven’t, you should keep looking. What you should not do is try to refashion your humanity to accommodate the circumstance you’re in.
But maybe CEO of a big company (or a president of a big university or mayor of a big city) is a job where no one naturally belongs. Maybe there are too many warring constituents—analysts and investors, C-suite colleagues and staffers, rank-and-file employees, customers and activists—watching you with too many eyes from too many angles, making too many demands and requiring too much caution, too constant vigilance, too much self-consciousness reserve for any healthy human being to endure. (“Scrutiny?” Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley once told reporters. “Go scrutinize yourself. I get scrootened every day!”)
That might turn you, if you tried to do it over any length of time, into stone.
Or it might encourage you to avoid that fate by turning yourself into a robot, as young Elizabeth Holmes appears to have been doing.
A severe case, Holmes seems to be.
But really, how rare is the disease?