Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • December 31, 2010
  • minute read

The UnCEO 

This is the last in a series examining the difference between positionship and leadership, and in particular, exploring the dynamic patterns that may indicate you or someone else is using their position to achieve things, rather than doing the hard work of actual leadership.On Tuesday we looked at the first such pattern – what I call The Doughnut CEO, and on Wednesday we examined the second pattern: The Sandwich CEO. Yesterday we met The Flying Goose CEO.

Today we conclude with The UnCEO. Can you spot her?:

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The UnCEO doesn’t believe in titles and formal roles, and eschews such things as corner offices and reserved parking spots. They repudiate formal meetings, preferring MBWA. They don’t write memos, instead they send ‘my thoughts on…’. To the UnCEO, structure is the enemy of good, and hierarchy is the spawn of evil.

In theory, the UnCEO rejects the CEO role, but in reality they’re doing exactly what the other models in this week’s series do: abdicating leadership, in this case by defining it out of their vocabulary. By rejecting the classic CEO role, they are handily sidestepping the responsibilities of leadership that go with it.

Why this happens:
Crunchy parents? An over-dominant father? Too much reading? Not enough failure? Too much failure?

Who knows? I’ve failed spectacularly in finding a consistent pattern to explain why and how UnCEO’s develop – so much so that I’m pretty sure the causes are more psychological than business-based.

What happens as a result:
Organizations run by UnCEO’s flourish in good times. Given a strong economy and/or high demand for their product or service the UnCEO-d business can do well: people want/like to come work for them, creativity gets a free rein and morale is high.

In a downturn, or faced with growing pains (typically in Whitewater or Treadmill) the UnCEO’d business becomes fraught with unresolved tension, brought about by a lack of needed leadership and clear direction. Morale plunges quickly, and the tension becomes confusion, then eventually resignation (in both senses of the word).

The UnCEO-d business will then either drift slowly downward as good people leave and customers drift away, or the UnCEO may precipitate matters by making radical cuts to take the business back to a smaller version of its former self, so that he or she can un-control it.

How to fix it:
If the business is either (a) a funky startup, or (b) a service business with strong intellectual property built around the owner then usually there is little can be done until or unless the business is sold (the UnCEO having too strong a lock on ownership for anyone else to change things effectively).

Sometimes, if enough pain is felt in a down time, this dynamic might change, as Steve Jobs did when he returned to Apple, or as the Google founders demonstrated when they brought in Eric Schmidt.

Otherwise (ie not a. or b. above), the UnCEO is on borrowed time, as the stakeholders will remove him or her unceremoniously once otherwise talented and loyal people begin leaving during the fraught downtime.

Over the weekend: The only 2 words you need to transform 2011


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