Among the many lessons from the News Corp. scandal and the Murdoch family travails is that all leaders have an Achilles’ heel.
I recently collaborated with Cheryl Strauss Einhorn for an article in CEO Magazine called “Finding and Fixing Your Achilles’ Heel.” The article describes several CEO types, their strengths and weaknesses, and then focuses on how leaders and their advisers should be aware of the positive and negative attributes of any top decision maker at an organization. We also provide suggestions on how trusted advisers can “fix” any Achilles’ heel problem.
Murdoch’s foibles provide a new category from the original article. We’ll call him the “Emperor CEO.” This is a leader who is master of the entire corporate or organizational universe. All who report to him, including family and executives, owe more than loyalty — it’s a deeper commitment, like medieval fealty from a vassal to a lord.
Other Emperor leaders are found in family-owned companies and those who build conglomerates from scratch. As demonstrated by News Corp., there is a blindness that develops to outside influence and criticism. The “Palace Guards” who owe their careers to the leader continue to isolate him from what’s going on in the countryside.
Rotate seminars with consultants and advisers who can be completely honest with the leader, but otherwise have no other ongoing relationship. This is a job for inside whistle blowers with contracts that protect them from getting fired if they tell the truth.
For leaders and counselors, there is no one way to protect a CEO’s Achilles’ heel, but among our recommendations:
- Set alerts to monitor any possible vulnerabilities cited by reporters, bloggers and stakeholders. Not everything requires an action or response, but it’s critical to know what’s being said.
- To avoid exposing a leader’s Achilles’ heel, ask this question: “How would this action or decision play in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or Financial Times?” It’s ironic that the leaders of the News of the World didn’t use the same test on their decision making and actions.
- Conduct internal reviews with employees and trusted customers to pick up positive and negative perceptions of leaders.
- Schedule periodic training for leaders. Good skills go stale; bad habits needs correcting; new strategies and tactics need to be incorporated.
- Use the mirror test. No two companies, organizations, or agencies are alike. Learn lessons from others; apply the lessons to a specific situation.