Duck! Here Comes The Pendulum, Again
But we have to be careful not to overreact, not to fix things too much. If we compensate too strenuously for a bad situation by chosing its opposite, we’ll sow the seeds of a future bad situation. Water the plants too little, they’ll wilt. Water them too much, they’ll drown.
This isn’t just for us mortals. Boards are made up of people, too. Their resumes may make them look like superheroes, so that we idolize them and think of them as flawless, but as a man who has interviewed hundreds of board members, befriended plenty, and even served with a few, I can tell you from close exposure: they’re human. Just like you and me, though perhaps a little wealthier and influential than most of us.
So with that in mind, it just goes to follow that a board would replace a flake with a bureaucrat, and vice verse. And guess what? It happens all the time.
Boards have problems when choosing CEOs after an ouster. When they decide to dump a robot, they tend to seek his opposite, which means charisma and energy rise to the top of their favored traits. When they decide to dump a wild man, it only follows that they’ll find a librarian type irresistible. “That last guy was so out of control!” they’ll often think. “A new transformative initiative every week, and nothing that ever bore fruit. Our heads are spinning! We need a rest!”
In the boom times of the early 2000s, shoot-from-the-hip types often drove incredible levels of innovation and profit, just what risk-friendly investors demanded. Yahoos rose to the top.
Then the music stopped, and everyone scrambled for the seats. Boards dumped their brave but reckless yahoos in droves. They brought on measure-twice-cut-once types. Corrections were made. Processes were put in place. Innovation was drummed out, in favor of process and reliability. The workplace, especially in the enterprise, became wonderfully safe for workers and managers with a bureaucratic bent. It became living hell for opportunity-chasing operators and visionaries.
Guess what? The music is playing again. It’s still faint, but you can hear it too, can’t you? In some industries, in some nations and in some regions, it is louder than in others – but regardless, it’s there.
And now, boards across the country and the globe are finding themselves stuck with their measured, careful reactions to conditions of 2009. In other words, they’re looking at their CEOs and noticing that the new car smell has faded. Bureaucrats aren’t so sexy anymore. You can’t get there from here, especially not with a plodder in the driver’s seat.
The pendulum swings, and it swings back. It’s what pendulums do. Yes, it would be best for a board to bring on a 20-year CEO this time, someone who fits in the middle, with a penchant for taking the main chance while keeping at least one foot planted firmly on the ground. I hope your board makes that call.
In the meantime, if you’ve been languishing under a robot or a librarian for too long, take solace in this post. The pendulum always returns to center. It’s the nature of pendulums.
Just as overreaction is the nature of most boards.
Other Posts by Ted Coine
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