Some time back, I had written about a chief executive officer (CEO) who was insecure, worked for 12 hours a day in the office, had no hobbies, was married to his assignment foot, arm and shoulder, and expected undiluted loyalty (adulation) from his subordinates.
I worked on his team for a few years. During this period, I tried to revamp the marketing department with some new blood. One of the product managers I hired was an MBA, from a premier institute—and my vision was that if we have a team of about three of such a description, we would have a 'crack team' in tune with the times!
It was a year since Ron was selected and we were all very happy with him. So when we had our first planning meeting for the introduction of a new product with a huge potential, I invited Ron to join in. Ron was very pleased.
He spent many days preparing a draft marketing plan—replete with diagrams, time schedules, analysis of prospective competitor moves, and so on.
At the meeting I gave a short introduction and then got Ron to make the full presentation. It was exhaustive and something that had never happened in the company before.
Somewhere towards the end of the meeting, the CEO raised some doubts. It was because he had not absorbed all the nuances properly. Ron gave the answers, which to me, were satisfactory.
Perhaps he should have shown sufficient gravity, since the questions came from the CEO. Ron seemed to have answered 'too facilely'.
The CEO felt that Ron had proved him wrong.
After the meeting, the CEO told me privately, “Ron seems too big for his boots. I do not think he will fit in well with this company. He thinks he is too smart with his MBA!”
I immediately understood that Ron’s fate was sealed.
Over the next six months, I made sure that Ron found another job in the industry—and I was not wrong. He made good progress in the next five years and much later became a 'star' in the industry!
I had also written about another CEO, who was not confident about dictating letters and reports—and all the time sought help from his aides (senior managers who then wasted their time, doing this work on behalf of the CEO. Can one learn to dictate?
Can one learn to read faster and save a lot of time? Can one learn to improve vocabulary?
Yes, one can do any or all of the above, which will improve efficiency- but irrespective of the age and the position—one must have the will to learn. Which also means that top management must have “humility”.
Prof Jean Pierre Lehman of IMD, Geneva refers to humility being essential for today’s manager—even more than 50 years ago, because it enables him to keep learning, without being held back by barriers of pride.
And with computer programs now—it is so easy and convenient!
When I had won a scholarship to Germany to study- it was subject to my learning to read and write in German, I had just four months to do this, and get a certificate from an approved German teacher in Bombay.
Dr Margarthe Spiegel, who retired as Professor of German from the University, and now gave language tuitions, got me to read chemistry books, and speak reasonably fluently, in just four months!
From the first day, when I rang the bell to the apartment. She opened the door and said “Bitte—sitzen sie sich".
I was confused.
She translated – and assured me that it will be the last time she will translate, or speak to me in English!! And it worked.
Forty years ago, I did an informal survey of reading speeds of 40 senior managers in 10 companies. I found it averaged 200 words a minute. The accepted average for a graduate is 500 words a minute.
Imagine the amount of time—in a lifetime of reading—that we have (or will have) wasted, by not cultivating a reasonable reading speed.
John Kennedy, former President of the US was said to have had a reading speed of about 1,200 words a minute—with comprehension. That is why he relied least on secretaries to brief him—because he had already glanced through the papers on his table!
The technological revolution is changing the environment for every one—and specially for senior management and CEOs. This segment is generally part of the old, who now find themselves in a changed environment. I can see the challenge clearly- because I am very much a part of it.
Many of us who are not millennials, need to keep learning—if we are to move forward. Some may retire, and others die, before this becomes necessary for success, or even for survival. For the rest, they had better take the 'MOVE FORWARD' vaccine!
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are "5 Gs of family Business" with Dr Mita Dixit and "Marketing in a Digital/ Data World" with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work