How to lead badly: The golden rules for CEOs

feature-awful-boss-200Some friends and I recently compiled these rules based on our collective experiences of very bad leadership. Any similarity to any person or company, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. And quite frightening.

Overall approach

1. As the leader, make sure your needs and preferences are at the forefront of your thinking and decision-making at all times. After all, you are in charge and, therefore, the most important person in the company despite what your company-wide emails say about the sales staff. For example, get that merger or acquisition, no matter what the consequences for the company, put it on your CV and move on to a higher paid gig.

2. Change your mind frequently and never, ever, provide a clear rationale for doing so. People need to know where the power is and you are too important to have to explain yourself. If you must explain a change of mind, make the explanation unintelligible to the average person – this will make you seem mysterious and knowledgeable.

3. Create chaos in whatever ways you can. Describe this as “deliberately creating the conditions to develop leaders in uncertain times” or some other pseudo-social-scientific nonsense. This helps keep people busy running in circles and trying to work out what is going on and therefore unable to critically analyse you, or the company’s performance under your leadership. You are, of course, above such criticism.

4. Have a lot of books on leadership on the shelf behind you in your office, just above your head. This will ensure everyone who comes to see you can also see these books and they will, therefore, associate you with being a leader. And intelligent.

An underpinning philosophy

5. Develop your own personal philosophy. Examples we like include ‘I deliberately create chaos and discomfort to see how people behave’; ‘I like to make continual changes because I am never satisfied and am always seeking improvement’; and, our favourite, ‘Under my leadership our company will disrupt the traditional models and transform the industry’. Having a philosophy will serve the dual purpose of making you seem wise and creating a cover for the chaos, discomfort and constant meaningless change you create and the lack of clear direction you have for the company.

Planning and communication

6. Create a strategic plan for the company that is incomprehensible gobbledygook. Talk about it a lot, never providing any clarity around its essence. Ensure the documentation around the plan is long and complex, contains more diagrams than words and uses mixed metaphors that make no logical sense. Add to it frequently. Imply that there is something wrong with anyone who doesn’t understand it. This will ensure you are not held to anything and it will give you the option to change strategic direction at any time, without this being detected by anyone.


7. Restructure the company unnecessarily, accompanied by lots of wordy emails about how the restructure will realign the company with the future (and include lots of guff about how glorious the future will be). This will make you feel important and clever and throw everyone off the scent of you having: distracted the board for a few months; created an excuse for falling business performance; gotten rid of potential threats; and created jobs with inflated salaries for your friends!  What could be easier? Also, you can put the company restructure on your CV to help you move onto a higher-paying gig.

Managing the executive team

8. Have favorites among your direct reports and make sure everyone knows who they are. Change your favorites from time to time. This will ensure your favorites work hard to stay in your good books for as long as possible, and will make the ones you don’t like work harder to try and win your favour.

9. Talk to each direct report about your other direct reports behind their backs and in particular, discuss their failings in detail. Encourage each direct report to do the same about their colleagues. This will ensure that you are aware of all weaknesses, which you can exploit when undertaking performance reviews and determining bonuses, and that the executive team doesn’t trust each other and can’t, therefore, bond behind your back. Oh, and my favourite: tell several of your direct reports they are your chosen successor. This will further reduce any risk that they will bond.

10. Change the executives’ roles and move responsibilities around between executives without consulting them (or telling them about the change at all, if you can get away with it). Put them on performance improvement plans and/or notice of termination if they object. This will keep people on their toes, stop smart-alecs trying to tell you something or other is not their responsibility and will create a bit of chaos – always useful in helping ensure the power remains with you. When inevitable confusion and disagreements occur between staff, you can ride in on your white steed and save the day/implement the performance improvement plan or notice.

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