The speech all new CEOs should give

I once took one of those business simulation courses. In it, we were given a computer terminal, an inbox, and a walkie-talkie. Our simulated company, Acme Widget, was said to be in trouble, and the point of the exercise was to evaluate our crisis management skills. There was a team of psychologists who were looking for leadership and other soft skills that might help us do well during a pressure-filled day.

The fellow who had been chosen as simulated CEO of our team was an up-and-coming executive in a Fortune 100 company. He was clearly acting as CEO in the exercise because his company had indicated he had so much potential.

The psychologists asked the “CEO” to give his motivational speech as the simulation began.

The CEO said, “Our job is to grow revenue faster than expense. Now get to work!”

That was it.

Would it surprise you to hear that Acme Widgets did not survive the simulated crisis? The emails flew, the disasters proliferated, and the team fell apart. I thought then, and I still believe, that the CEO’s speech could have made a big difference in how our team performed.

Here is what he should have said. As a matter of fact, this is the speech that I give when I take over companies as an interim president.

“My name is Walter, and I will be CEO of this company. I am not an expert in many of the aspects of the business, so I hope you will be open with me when I ask questions. I am not probing to look for weaknesses in you or your colleagues but to see how we are doing things now and how we might look for improvements. My interest is in processes, not personalities. I am not here to hurt anyone, just to see that we all work together to further the corporate fortunes.

“I have a few expectations. I’d like to share them with you now.

“The first is safety. Whether you work with machines or in the office, I’d like to promote a culture that ensures that we all go home safely at the end of the workday. I will be asking specific questions on this aspect. Not for money reasons or for insurance, but because we are all in this together, and we can’t promote that feeling if someone is risking his or her hands in the factory or a sore back in the filing room. Please be open as to how this concern might be addressed.

“The second expectation is respect. This expectation is one you can aim at me. You should expect that I treat you with respect at all times. This means no shouting, yelling, or baiting. And I will expect the same treatment in return, and that the same courtesies will be extended to others in the company, at all levels. That doesn’t mean we can’t be human — as a matter of fact, I do like to hear laughter and chatter — but it must be kept on a basic, respectful level.

(Continued)

 

“The third is integrity. That means we tell the truth. You can expect me to tell the truth, and I will expect the same. Telling the truth is very freeing. The truth has no politics and no taboo subjects. If it will make the company do better, it should be spoken about candidly. By the way, when I ask questions of people who work here, I keep their impressions to myself. It doesn’t do anyone any good for me to say, ‘Susie thinks our marketing is a disaster.’ However, after speaking to Susie, I might talk to the people in marketing and say, ‘When was the last time you gave a presentation on the latest campaign?’

“Oh, and a commitment to telling the truth is not the same as giving out all information. You do not have the right to know everyone’s salary information or when the big merger is going to be announced. Some information is kept appropriately hidden, when it needs to be.

“The last expectation has to do with teamwork. If you need help, you should ask for it. No one should feel that his or her position is in danger when he or she feels a better job can be done with a little help. You should also provide help when you can and when it would help others do a better job. No doubt this means that you will be making extra efforts and personal sacrifices. Those efforts will be recognized by the people around you and may eventually even lead to material improvements in your situation. But at a minimum, you will realize that some days you, too, need help. Having provided it, you will be gratified when your colleagues step up to do the same.

“Those are my expectations. Please let me know if we are falling short in these areas.

“My door is always open. Thanks for listening.”

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