HAT tip to P.D. Eastman, Go, Dog. Go!
A Day in the Rigorously Meaningless Life of One Corporate CEO
Kurt Vonnegut had an uncle who often said on a sunny day with a glass of lemonade in his hand, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
On the flip side of that coin, when reading a feature about a day in the life of a CEO, I often say, “If this isn’t shite, I don’t know what is.”
It’s always a contest of who can sleep least, get up earliest, eat healthiest, work most efficiently and still have a guilty pleasure at the end of an 18-hour day. You’d think we’d get over this after first marveling, then gagging at the disgraced Theranos’ CEO Elizabeth Holmes’ routine. Remember?
- “4:00 A.M. rise & thank God. most things are not logical.”
- “4:00 – 4:15 – wash face, change.”
- “4:15 – 4:45 – meditate, clear mind.”
- “4:45 – 5:20 – work out.”
- “5:20 – 6:20 – change, shower, shave, perfect.”
- “6:20 – 6:30 – pray”
- “6:30 – 6:45 – bfast (bannana [sic], whey)”
- “6:45 – drive to [Theranos]”
These days in prison, she can sleep in until 6:00.
But just the other day, I read a similar day in the life of one Damola Adamolekun, CEO of the restaurant chain, P.F. Chang’s.
“My life is my work,” Adamolekun begins. “My work is my life.”
I’m okay hearing that from the President of the United States. I’m okay hearing that from a school teacher in a hard neighborhood in Chicago, or a church pastor or a public defender. Honestly, I’m even okay hearing that from a bricklayer who works on buildings built to last.
But from the CEO of the Asian Olive Garden?
The 34-year-old has a motto, he told Fortune: “Early to bed, early up.”
After rising at 4:30 a.m.:
He begins his day with a seven to eight-mile run, which he says helps him feel less stressed and more relaxed. The aerobic exercise routine stimulates his “calm, relaxed, autonomous nervous system,” Adamolekun says, unlike the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers your body’s fight or flight reaction.
Look, young man: I’m the CEO of Pro Rhetoric, LLC. I run four miles a day. My “calm, relaxed, autonomous nervous system” does not require any more miles than that, even if I start the day with a little hangover. I don’t think yours does either.
“You’ll feel better the whole day,” Adamolekun responds. “You’ll be smarter, you’ll be sharper, you’ll be more energetic.”
I’ve run eight miles many days, training for long races. I’m not smarter, not sharper, not more energetic for doing so. Promise.
6:00 a.m. Before hitting the road, he takes a few minutes to review the chain’s performance numbers from the previous day in his home office, checking to see if they aligned with the company’s expectations.
A restaurant chain’s daily performance numbers? Pardon me, but what kind of strategic move might this guy make on Wednesday if Tuesday’s sales missed expectations by a few ticks (or even a bunch)? Sounds like he’s spinning his wheels before he even heads to work—where at 7:00 a.m., he “casually meets with the COO and CFO before jumping into a day full of meetings. His schedule is packed with internal and external meetings.”
Now see here: If you want to meet casually, it’s not with a COO and a CFO. It’s with the guy about your age with the long hair who smells vaguely like dope, in corporate communications.
In between meetings, Adamolekun manages emails, prioritizing the most essential tasks to ensure employees are being met with timely approvals to move forward with their work.
Do employees also receive timely refusals, to stop them from moving forward with imbecilic schemes, wild goose chases and fool’s errands? In any case, it seems to me a CEO shouldn’t be scrambling to answer emails in order to avoid becoming a bottleneck. Maybe Adamolekun should casually mention this one morning, to the COO.
6:00 p.m.: When the day’s meetings are over, Adamolekun clears his inbox and heads home. But, his work day doesn’t exactly stop there.
Now, my dude has been up since 4:30 a.m. and supposedly run eight miles, crunched some numbers, had a “casual” meeting with the most brutal executives in the organization, held a half dozen formal meetings between answering many business-critical emails. I didn’t see a nap anywhere in there. I know he’s 34, but I was 34 once too. And by 6:00 p.m, I’m telling you: The guy is toast.
As the CEO of a major restaurant chain, Adamolekun is no stranger to mixing business with dinner, often meeting with colleagues and connections after the traditional nine-to-five workday ends. As he puts it, “It’s a hospitality business, so a lot of dinners are involved.”
Really? Just because you’re the head of P.F. Chang’s, you have to go out for dinner a lot? Does the head of IHOP have lots of flapjack breakfasts to attend? Does the CEO of Vienna Beef have a hotdog-eating contest every night?
On the occasions when Adamolekun can go straight home without any post-work affairs, he relaxes with a cigar on the patio, ending his day the same way he starts, by activating his parasympathetic nervous system.
To the extent that the above is true, I truly feel sorry for this man, who seems to be trying to become a robot. And to the extent he’s typical of corporate CEOs, I feel sorry for all of them, for having gained the world in apparently enthusiastic exchange for the infinitely richer lives they might have lived. In exchange for freedom, itself.
Work is good, and good work is great. But whoever you are, whatever your work and whatever the pay—don’t dig your life away.
Conference Speaking for Consultants: Nine Steps to Getting Business By Giving Away Nothing
In my basement archives, ran across a snarling little piece this wiseguy wrote 17 years ago for a communication trade newsletter, now long defunct.
Fun to read again—and still relevant enough. —DM
At the IABC International Conference in late June , several communication consultants found the height of their art form. They purported to teach audiences how to become more strategic. Along the way, they gave us a step-by-step guide to reducing capable adults who generally can solve their own problems to children who need grown-ups to do their thinking for them. Grown-ups who happen, of course, to be communication consultants.
Step One. At the outset, tell the audience this is not a “how-to” session, adding that if they came here for practical tips, they’re in the wrong room. Use your body language—turning on a heel and looking at your PowerPoint is good—to suggest that the right room for them is probably a high school woodshop.
Step Two. Ask lots of Socratic questions that have any number of right answers, but only one that’s in your head. Hand out children’s toys for correct answers and withhold children’s toys for incorrect answers, or answers that aren’t “what I’m looking for.” (At IABC, one consultant spent five minutes quizzing the group on the meaning of his own murky session title, “Pat Your Head, Rub Your Tummy and Whistle Through the Leadership Graveyard.” To those who came up with good interpretations of the title, he gave out blue and red kazoos.)
Step Three. As soon as you sense the audience is tired of guessing at the answers to your dumb questions, demonstrate that you feel sorry for them by pandering to their usual complaints. Talk like a commoner: “We’re in a war with the operating people, and we ain’t winnin’.”
Step Four. Lest the audience members begin to think your empathy with their plight means you and they are equals, work in the Japanese term for wasted effort: muda. This will remind them that you are far more learned and sophisticated than they.
Step Five. Now that you’ve got them in the proper position—they know you know their troubles, but that you are far above them—you may give them a choice. Graciously inform them that they don’t have to embrace the visionary view that you are about to impart. Furthermore, tell them: “It’s probably not for everyone.” Suggest with all your body language that the types of people who may not want to embrace your vision are the simple-minded and the lazy.
Step Six. Now it’s time to share your vision. Just kidding! If you shared your vision, these drudges would understand the durn thing, and then would have no reason to hire you. No. Now is the time to name-drop your clients—or, better still, refer to them as “a major Fortune 500 manufacturing firm.” Then, talk about what incredible things you have done for them, rattling off dozens of huge numbers of millions you have saved them, ROI you have generated for them and some of the nice things top management there has said about you and your ability to remove the muda from their lives. (But be falsely humble: It’s never “I” saved the client money, it’s always “we,” even if you’re a sole practitioner—nay, especially if are a sole practitioner. And actually, it’s never “we” saved the company money, it’s “we worked with the communication staff to save the company money.”)
Step Seven. You’re doing great. At this point, you have humiliated the audience, you have stroked them on the cheek, you have amazed them, you have divided them and you have numbed them. But you’re not done yet! What are you forgetting? (If you said, “fear,” you get a kazoo!) Now talk about all the change that’s happening in the world and suggest that, by embracing your vision, they won’t wind up on skid row. Say, “I don’t want any of us to be victims.”
Step Eight. By now, you have made your audience very dumb and emotionally paralyzed. You must remind them once more that they have a choice: They can do a strategic, “surgical” work that helps move the organization forward, or they can keep on with their current activities, which you should characterize glamorously as “cranking out Internet stuff,” “doing videos” or “getting out brochures.”
Step Nine. You must take questions. As Henry Kissinger once told reporters at a press conference, “I hope your questions match my answers.” In case a communicator’s question doesn’t match one of your answers, say that you do not have all the answers (and, with a shrug, imply that you have no idea where they would have gotten such a notion). Now, state that this vision stuff requires thinking on the part of the communicator. The communicator will quickly come to understand that his or her weak mind is to blame for not having the foggiest idea what it is that you propose communicators should do differently based on your talk. Remind them what you told them in the beginning: This is not a woodshop.
Follow all these steps, and you’ll leave most members of the audience ashamed to be alive, and sure of but one thing: Only the one who made them feel this bad can make them feel good again.
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