CEO Is Not An Acronym For Character Entirely Optional

I read a wonderful post today by my fellow blogger, BTG, about an American football coach who suspended his entire high school football team for demonstrating poor behaviour to others and showing a lack of accountability. You can read the post here.

It started me thinking about the great character paradox. As parents we all want our children to grow up being men and women of character and our messaging of the importance of character starts at an early age. Toddlers are taught not to hit, push or scream and to share and play nice with others. Later, we teach our children to be sociable, inclusive and respectful. As their journey through life continues we reinforce the “treat others as you would be treated” rule and the value of compassion, caring and helpfulness.

And then something happens. Some where along the way, the messaging that reaches our children’s ears seems to change, at least for those children that are destined for the corporate/business world. Whether it’s from peers, educators or society the volume control on the following increases:

  • nice guys finish last
  • the squeaky wheel gets the most oil
  • who you know is more important than who you are
  • you eat what you kill
  • it’s all about the results and not the journey.

So, we teach our children to be adults of character and society and business rewards them for being anything but.

What if our business leaders were prepared to do exactly what this coach did to his team? What if our CEOs and senior managers were spilled for showing lack of character and had to earn their way back into the bonus pool?

Sadly, this Nirvana will never be reached in my life time, at least not in my industry. In business we continually confuse confidence with competence and build reward structures to promote narcissistic behaviour and traits. And what’s more, our company’s mission statements and internal policies do nothing more than add to the we value character rhetoric. Our children inevitably learn what is really rewarded and set out to play the game.

Show me a CEO who reprimands his top salesman for treating the office staff with disrespect and I will show you a man of character. Show me a managing partner who rewards and encourages team contribution over individual billings and I will show you a woman of character. I will also show you a more engaged and productive workforce.

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

The best managers I have worked for have all been people of character. These are the few who show us that we can still achieve by treating superiors and subordinates respectfully, by valuing human beings and by being accountable for our decisions and actions. They share and play nice with others, lessons learned in kindergarten. They don’t toot their own horn or spend their time brown-nosing.

It’s not complicated. Even a toddler can understand it.

Coincidentally, I received a flyer from my old high school today advertising an alumni lunch event around the topic “What Defines Success”. The speakers are all high profile individuals either alumni or parents of present students. By assembling these speakers they have already presumed a certain defintion of success. To me its just more of the same old.

Imagine if we could spill the corporate team and only rebuild it with those who demonstrate real character?

Imagine if character was not entirely optional for our CEOs and senior managers?

Kudos to the coach for spilling his team and taking the time to teach his young charges an important lesson. It’s a huge step in the right direction.


Forget FoMO: In Business Its FoBIA

I’m pretty hip, cool, groovy and with it, most of the time. Having said that, I think I just proved otherwise by using those expressions. Maybe I’m mad, bad and trending. Whatevs the case I’m totes going to go ahead with this post.

Recently, I happened across an article about FoMO, telling me I was missing out. Naturally, it reeled me in, I mean if I was missing out, I couldn’t knowingly continue to miss out on what I was missing out on. Turns out I was missing out on knowing what FoMo meant. For the equally uniniated hip, cool and groovy  FoMo is:

Defined as a fear of one’s social standing or how one is perceived among peers,  and a need to constantly know what is happening and what others are doing, FoMO  is most prevalent in people aged 16 to 35.

Read more:

FoMo is driven by our social media, constantly connected culture. All the information about what your friends, rivals and social set are up all just a click of a button away. This is apparently creating a narcissistic, anxious and sleep deprived Gen Y. However, as the article points out it’s not all bad, FoMO may actually make you strive to better yourself. All that comparison, might just light a fire in your belly and give you a way forward.

How 2013 is this though?

These human traits have existed ever since the Garden of Eden and when you know who was a boy. They have certainly existed in the workplace ever since I was a girl. Social media just aggregates the information and delivers it in a way where actual human to human contact is minimised. It hangs the hubris out there for all the world to see, but can be a wonderful outlet for compassion, connection and achievement. I’m keen on social media, but understand the personal responsibility that comes with its use.

The reality is we all buy into FoMO to some degree or another – whether it’s gossiping over the back fence, rubber necking our way past a car accident or following our favourite celebrity on Twitter. It is not just the purview of 16 to 35 year olds. They may just lay claim to social media FoMo.

phone charging poleWhich brings me back to the business world. In the past couple of weeks, I have had cause to observe just how anxious people get when they are not tethered to their smartphones or other technology devices. At every business meeting I have had over the past fortnight people have laid their mobile devices on the table before them. Whilst they may have been on silent, at least a couple of them continued to check emails coming in. One even responded and made a call totally unrelated to the topic of the meeting at hand. What message does this send to the people in the meeting?  At a seminar, half the participants sat phone in hand, scrolling away on their screens.

Is business on the phone really that pressing? Are we really that indispensible that we can’t focus on one thing solely for 1 hour? Or that we can’t switch off after hours?

Or are we a creating a business culture of FoBIA?

FoBIA is a term I have coined to mean Fear of Being Irrelevant, Already.

It seems that the need to create the perception that we are important or busy by remaining tethered to our communication devices abounds. It also looks good to an audience if you are constantly checking in, it means you must be important. Check your emails at 8pm, 9pm, 10pm, 11pm or you might miss out on a piece of information that you could have picked up in the morning *.

But how much of this is real business need, and how much of this is fear and patch protection? How much is posturing?

Worse still, is this becoming a habit?

I refuse to believe that the advent of Web 2.0  forces us to redfine the meaning of ‘need to know’ and respectful person to person communication. Respect is the bottom line for all interactions, online, offline or in outer space and committing your attention is a part of that.

True leadership and ability to influence begins with making other people feel valued. The size of one’s inbox or phone is no measure of business prowess.

So to all you legends in your own inboxes, I say no need for FoBIA and forget FoMO. Human interaction will enrich your life, information in and of itself will not.

For another post on technology and its impacts today read this great piece from Barney who blogs at Views from the Hill.

* Legitimate after hours use is not included in this statement, for example working on a time critical or global transaction where communication with other time zones are necessary.

Stop Using The “CC” As A Weapon

Email, you gotta hate love it.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

My introduction to email occurred about two decades ago when it opened up the possibility of real time communication with the whole world through an innocuous click. It also made serious inroads into my mastery of the fine art of workplace corridor loitering, you know the loitering you do as a junior whatever to wait for that perfect moment to jump into an office to experience some face time with a senior.

Some might say it is now outdated technology, that communication is all about flow and interaction. Email has a tendency to be fragmented and usually less gratifying. Some might also say that the advent of platforms such as Skype and Facebook chat have usurped the need for email. However, it seems that email is here to stay, at least in business.

I’m sure most of us have some humorous workplace email stories to tell. I’m also sure most of us have misunderstood or have been misunderstood through email and have had the experience where a lot of time and angst could have been avoided if we had just picked up this somewhat underutilised device, called the telephone.

For example, at my last workplace there was a row of desks and partitioning separating the offices which were located along  each wall of a long corridor. Sort of like the Berlin Wall, but the offices belonged to people from the same country department. Despite it being a five minute walk around the Wall (there were no gun or passport controls in evidence) and despite telephones being standard issue, my colleague would send me a slew of emails to deal with a simple matter that could have been resolved in a two minute conversation. Clearly this dude was not going to brave the Wall. Maybe he was too concerned about being thought of as a rebel dissident.

As I move through middle age, I spend a fair bit of time thinking about human interaction, relationships, motivation, influence and connectivity. I’m a fairly late study to these matters and so I approach all of them with the enthusiasm that only “mature age students” can muster.

I am particularly interested how humans use the “CC” field in email and how over time it has taken on a life of its own.


Here are couple of observations:

Using CC as a means of CYA

If you have ever played the ancient art of  “telephone-tag” you will know that the  convenience of an email is unsurpassed. You can get your point of view across quickly to a LOT of people at a time of your convenience.

This possibility has led to a rise in what is also an ancient art, the CYA. The CYA, or Cover Your Arse involves copying an  email (through the use of the CC field  – CC, standing for “circulate copy” or “carbon copy”) to twenty other people, the last eighteen of whom are at least five steps removed from the actual subject matter, and couldn’t give a toss about such minutiae. But, rather than back him or herself, the author has purposely set up an “out” if things go pear-shaped “But you knew, you had a copy of the email!”. Here’s a tip: knowing and receiving an email are vastly different things, especially if you have a high traffic in-box. I truly wonder how much these CC’s readers understand the whole matter, even if they do take time to read the email, given they would only have one side of the discussion in real time. Stop with the CC’s already!!

tearing hear out


Using CC as an escalation device – the ultimate weapon

I will admit to this being my pet peeve as I detest passive aggression in any form.

This is an example of highly strategic use of the CC. It involves CCing*  senior managers who are perceived as important. Rather than build relationships with the recipient, the author sees fit to CC* the recipient’s senior managers to make sure they know about what is usually a request of the recipient. This way, the senior manager can ensure that his or her underling is performing the required task.

Is this really necessary? Where are you going to escalate to, when escalation truly becomes necessary – if it in fact does? I’m sure that the Lord’s inbox is a lot fuller than yours and that he has other priorities.

How these people must bask in the light of CC afterglow. The cries of “Ha, I showed you and I didn’t even appear to be as spiteful as I really am” echoing through the cyberworld.

I’m not going to touch upon the BCC (being “blind circulate copy”) field in this post, which takes passive aggression to a whole other level.

In summary, the use of the CC field for anything other than what it was designed for is fraught. The agenda of the author is often clearly obvious from his or her use of the field. It is time folks, that we all stopped using the CC as a weapon and actually used it for the purposes of positive communication. Spare a thought not only for the primary recipient of the email as to how your CC will be perceived but also to all your poor CC recipients, who will either get RSI from hitting the delete key or have to spend hours filing your butt covering tracks away. Time better spent having a non-written conversation with a living, breathing human.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of some CC aggression? Do you have a humorous email use story you wish to share?

* I apologise to all the grammar purists out there for using CC as a verb, but this reflects usual parlance and I treat my blog as a conversation not a literary vehicle