Managing Executive Ego’s; The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

I’ve worked at 8 different IT companies in my career and have seen many people in management roles. I’ll draw upon my career and the colorful stories for this discussion.

Managing Executives is a very sensitive issue.  This process is critical to the relationship and results with the press and Analysts.  Much of the time this is unseen externally, but the machinations exist under the covers for us to get to the discussion in an orderly manner.

Executives have many demands on their time and are pounded or pulled at from every angle, but they make the big bucks so butch up.  They might have come from a great meeting or one that they got machined gunned to death right before the analyst briefing.  Different people handle stress in different ways.

A common thread I’ve noticed is how much ego they bring, and how much control they have over it. Either way, the executive is the messenger and the content owner in the eyes of the audience.  It is our job to make sure they are best prepared, deal with the issues, understand the big picture and be as professional as possible to achieve results.  In some ways, we have to pull the strings and push the buttons behind the curtain to make successful analyst engagements happen.

As with the movie, I’ll take it in order.

THE GOOD

There are some executives that intrinsically get that analysts are deep thinkers, they have influence over customers, press and our reputation.  The media are rarely deep thinkers, but need to be managed and have influence, albeit less and less.

The really, really good ones know that the analyst can provide great input into the strategy and can point out any holes or landmines in our strategy.

The really, really, really good ones (Buell Duncan) understand that it is about creating a relationship and that no matter how much influence they have at IBM, they can put that aside and get the message out and deliver value to an analyst discussion.

One key is they can manage their ego’s and those of the analyst (not the point of this post, but it is related throughout).  The executive I’ve linked above always comes off as you’re smarter than I am, although it’s rarely true.  He also accepts that criticism is part of the deal and doesn’t take it personally.  I’m not sure if it was his basic nature or that he came from sales (I attribute a big piece to the fact that he’s from the south and is more polite than most) but no matter what the case, his briefings always were a home run.

These executives are of course the best to deal with.  Some have higher maintenance levels than others, but when you know your big gun is going to deliver, you want to make sure his gun is as loaded as possible with bullets.

There are always disagreements over issues, but when an executive can put their ego aside and listen to input, everyone wins.  These people are very perspicacious.

boss or leader

THE BAD

Everyone has a bad day.  That can precipitate a less than optimal discourse.  I’ve worked with some who just weren’t as good as others at dealing with media and analysts, although practice usually improved things.  Some executives just shouldn’t be doing briefings as it isn’t their strength.

As described in the GOOD section, I’ve seen good executives come off distracted as they just got chewed out, or a multi-million dollar contract is about to be lost….it happens.

Some need more coaching and preparation than others, that’s our responsibility in communications.  I’ll discuss this in the Executive Preparation post, yet to come.

There are some that are not cut out for analysts briefings.  They should not be put in this situation.  There is always someone else on the team who is the one really best suited for dealing with the  analysts.  They may not be as good with a P&L, but they get the strategy and the relationship issues.  I use them as much as possible as it produces results on both the analyst and the company side.

Some just don’t get give and take.  I don’t put them in the ugly as they just won’t budge on the fact that their solution is what it’s going to be, but many times they can be right. It is better for the company for them to make the tough choices and stick with our side of the argument.  It rarely makes for a successful analyst engagement, but I defer when history shows that they didn’t take the analyst advice and the company or division benefits.  Again, this a time where a lieutenant is best for dealing with the analysts.

I’ll bring up human nature here as I’ve been in a situation where an executive who is generally great at working with analysts has a beef with a person for some reason.  In one case, both the analyst and the executive described the other person in to me terms of a deification orifice.   Sometimes you just have to separate people and agree to disagree.  This situation is a challenge in communications.

Some of the bad are nitpickers.  The get caught up in details that are not relevant to the big picture.   They are a distraction and a lieutenant is again best.

Another category that could be BAD or could be UGLY are the quick triggers.  They fire off a response without considering the consequences.  The reason I put it into BAD instead of UGLY is you never know how it’s going to turn out.  It usually depends on the audiences’ response.  Either way it is high maintenance.  The quick witted exec’s can play this one well though, I’ll give them that.

I had to work with one entrepreneur who thought he knew more than anyone.  He managed to pick a fight over a lie that he was making a product (disk drive) that he bought from Control Data.  The reporters and analysts knew it and the company credibility was shot.  I had to tell one reporter not to equate me with him as I was not going to lie for him.

The last of the bad is the death by PowerPoint crowd.  They drone on and on and on and on without letting the analyst get a word in (when don’t analysts like to offer an opinion?) and everyone dreads these meetings.  Their objective is to get through the slide deck come hell or high water.

These executives are hard to work with, but sometimes you have to do it and get through it.

THE UGLY

These are the worst experiences of anyone’s communications career.  They also regularly put the company behind the curve with the relationship with the analyst.  I have only experienced this a couple of times, but they are burned into my memory as times I don’t want to relive.  Fortunately, I don’t work for or with any of these people anymore.

It almost every instance, it  is fueled by the over estimation by the executives of the importance of themselves.  These people also come in various flavors.head_up_ass

The Ugly Flavors

The Suits – These are people who have made it through the system via the Peter Principle. They pontificate, but aren’t well respected by anyone on either side and as with everyone in this category, are difficult to work with.  They are found out quickly by the analyst and it hurts the cause to come to the table with them.  Once, he called his assistant before a Forrester briefing to see if he could change his flight out so he could be home early and asked me to cut the analyst meeting short.  This was less than professional and was very hard to explain to the analysts why he obviously was blowing them off.

Another Suit (A former head of NetFinity and IGF named Callies) incident came up when I had landed one of the highest level press interviews of my career.  It was major media headline quality “Article of the Year” that anyone with half a brain would throw their best people and research at.  I had to pull the speaker (his lieutenant) from the Suit’s “staff” meeting.  The lieutenant was the best speaker I may have worked with and the Suit was one of the worst.  Said Suit wouldn’t let the speaker go to the briefing threatening him with “it’s only your job if you leave”, or I’m more important than anyone else.  As it usually happens with these types, I had to work around him to get the job done and got our name up in lights despite his efforts to torpedo any progress.

A different flavor suit flavor is described by Lou Gerstner in his book “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?”  He describes an executive who wrote memo’s on how to deal with him including what type of gum to have and how to set the clocks (pg. 32).   These are unusually high maintenance people who want celebrity treatment.  There is a good song about this syndrome, watch the video here. Adios reality.

The Terrorists

These people give me nightmares.  Almost everyone has worked with or heard about these tyrants.  Nothing you can do is right, nothing is good enough and the analyst is wrong because they are right.  This is different than the BAD  situation from above.  The BAD executive there is making a tough choice not to go with the analyst view, but it is well informed choice.  The terrorist doesn’t really care about outcomes or just doesn’t know, rather it’s about what they want and their career, power and usually their insecurity.  Every company has one and the main IBM terrorist (who is known as much by one name, Sandy) has many dead bodies behind her quest to climb the ladder.  She made it up the chain and managed via the Dark Side as a corporate climber who both played favorites and pitted employees against each other.  We in communications had a support group for those who survived a term working for her and kept their job.  Once, I even wrote a press release for one of her female employees  just so she wouldn’t get fired, even though it never went out.  She personally set back diversity according to the women who worked for her.  I’ve rarely seen less respect for an executive.  When she got promoted, her employees were high fiving in the hallway that she was leaving.

No matter what the SJW’s try to redefine diversity rules to, the smart companies promote the best performers.

Sandy used to bring us through about 50 revisions of Powerpoint charts.  Most if not all changes were bad, but were done precisely as she had demanded.  We were later castigated with “why did you do this, I didn’t ask for it?”   She didn’t command much respect with the Press and Analysts who saw through this level (lack) of competency.  It was embarrassing to be in a press conference with her.  Although being a promoter of WITI,  she internally hurt the path for many women, and certainly made many question affirmative action and diversity policies at IBM.

Having to sweat through every meeting prior to and with an analyst is counter productive and has never lead to the results that could be achieved.

I’ve noticed that the terrorist is found out by press or analysts by many means.  Sometimes it is inconsistency in charts, sometimes it is through unusual calls and/or requests by A/R, many times it is through colleagues and sometimes it is through working with them enough times that your .

I’ve had one other terrorist who is now the VP of External Relations.  I called him to warn him of a problem that a reporter alerted me to.  It is expected that you let the person in charge of an area know if there is an issue so that they can deal with it as it is their turf.  I was being the good employee (in my first 4 months) so I left a voicemail explaining the situation and doing the hand off so that I wasn’t infringing on another person’s PR territory.

I got a call back from this type A New Yorker (a former Ed Koch employee) who lambasted me for my efforts.  Apparently, he was insecure as he kept reminding me that he was the boss and I was a nobody.  Let me point out that this was not a morale booster for a new hire who was trying to do a good job and be a team player.  Such is the life of working with terrorist Communications leaders.  I found out later that he regularly abused most people who worked there.  He deducted IQ points from those in the South which is another form of anti-diversity and discrimination.  Most just refused to help him or stayed away so as not to have to deal with the chewing out.  I’ve personally witnessed them confessing that they didn’t want to help him because of his temper.  What a shame.

Terrorist’s can come with unrealistic expectations.  I to this day am not sure how to handle them.  In both cases, I chose to move on and out as quickly as I could.

SUMMARY

To be effective with press and analysts, you must be able to manage the executives.  Executives come with many styles.  It is imperative that you learn the style and manage it for effectiveness.

Since people are different, one must adapt to each person.   Just hope you get the good, deal with the bad and escape the ugly.  As for the terrorist, I advise grabbing a parachute and jumping.  The plane is usually going to crash anyways.

Here is a quote that sums it up terrorists for me: “They are simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up.” – Paul Keating

Update: SageCircle links here with a good post on improving executives.

For you Clint fans and movie buffs, here is the song and movie opening video.

It’s Not Easy Being Green, Or getting the evidence of Global Warming – My Short Tenure at IBM in Sustainability

Note: I’ve edited this to accurately represent what really happened at the Green and Sustainability effort during my tenure at this job.  It has died because once the fury of Green passed by, nobody cared about it.  That accurately reflects the real position by everyone in the company that I worked with except the executive who got paid for running it.  I don’t think he cared either once the assaignment was over because he moved on and it was dropped.

I was given a stretch assignment for Green IT at IBM this year.   A stretch assignment means you get another job without the extra pay, or layoffs just happened and a person now has to do the work of 2 since they don’t want to backfill, or the powers that be don’t feel like you have enough to do so they use this as retribution. In this case it’s mostly the second one because they know I can deliver when others can’t, so they dump stuff on me frequently.

I have a lot ahead of me, thus the title of this blog post.  The hardest thing about this assignment is that I know that IBM doesn’t really believe in it (and there is only a small faction of nuts in the company trying to get buy in). The entire premise is almost 100% hype for corporate responsibility and image rather than any actual product or offering.  I really wasn’t given a choice whether I wanted to do it and I certainly will do my job, but as you can see in the details below, it’s hard to believe in something when it’s based on bullshit.  I see through it and I know that TPTB are just being politically correct to avoid the (very small but politically damaging) social justice warrior hostage taking out there.

During the Major Analyst Conference we did in November, I had to get this nonsense into all the Smarter Planet materials to show (SJW and PC) compliance (so as to not get the Jessie Jackson-ish extortion treatment by the Al Gore crowd).  It turns out to be a bunch of nonsense that is made up to try to fool the press and analysts into thinking IBM actually does something in the Green space.

It all started out with trying to be politically correct about global warming, since IBM really isn’t and has the carbon footprint of China (or Al Gore’s 2 houses and jet setting around the world).  Now, everyone has started shying away from the words “global warming” once the world saw through that as a lie and ineffective, they renamed it Sustainability.  That means you wrap up all the things that tangentially have something to do with being sustainable, since it is a nebulous name and concept and voila, you claim sustainability.

Once the word sustainability gets found out as a fraud as part of the global warming and money grabbing hoax, you then call it Smarter Planet or roll it up into that campaign and somehow you are politically correct, even if you aren’t really doing anything different (which IBM isn’t).  We had to sell this crock to the press and analysts who wanted so badly to be able to charge extort us for pretending to  buy our baloney of offering something in this space that resembled eco-friendliness.  They were compliant in our scam as long as there was money.

The worst thing is having to deal with the idiots out there who buy into this Gaia religion like Tom Raftery of Greenmonk and James Governor of Redmonk and Greenmonk.  Our executives in a briefing after a different Green Day analyst conference in London actually called James a wanker and Tom a whiner after the event due to their outbursts and views as they interrupted the entire day.  Greenmonk has since gone dormant for lack of money, facts and believable content on climate.  Their credibility was shot when they wanted a carbon tax at a dollar a pound.  James told me the real truth was he wanted to make money while trying pretend that they were doing it to save the planet, making money being the operative words (see the above extortion tactics).  I put the Dilbert cartoon in specifically for O’Reilly, Raftery and Governer – the 3 stooges.

The net of it is that IBM is pretending to be a player in this shell game but is a pseudo player.  Fortunately, the analysts and press who are pushing it are just bully’s, but know as we all do that the evidence is not there, so they make up new stories when the lack of facts expose the wild goose chase de jour.

Too bad it is all a farce and IBM’s offering is equally a load of hogwash.

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THE WORLD IS FLATTER, BUT NOT LIKE YOU THINK.

That is right, the real flat earther’s are the one’s who buy into this farce of “sustainability” like Greenmonk whose job was to suck around for money. Another dissembler Tim O’Reilly, who couldn’t defend global warming with anything other than “climate science is hard” (or I have no real facts so I’ll call you names), while condemning those who don’t believe in it wrong without any proof of his position was another nut I had to deal with.  None of either’s positions are based on anything but computer climate predictions of which none have come even close. they based their position on the IPCC report.  It now comes out that The IPCC; Never Has So Much Been Made Out of So Little by So Many at So Great A Cost.  In other words it was a money transaction that had nothing to do with climate other than earth worshipping. Any other “climate facts” are 50 years in the future, which is an even bigger joke since real meteorologists can barely predict the weather next week.  I could be convinced of global warming if there was one little thing called evidence.  What I find unfathomable is the lack of backbone by IBM to stand up to this money grabbing extortion theme by these pseudo experts.

As it turns out, I had tweeted in response to Tim’s crisis about the rising tides that I didn’t believe him, but would accept his facts if he had any.  Like all good climate warriors, he made ad hominem attacks on me and in a more harmless statement, said that I got all my information from Fox News (I don’t watch any news as my career with the media already told me that the press are biased). The only real facts about the state of Climate issues are found at What’s up with That unlike Tim who had no facts like all climate warriors.

As it turns out, the tides are receding Tim and here is the evidence. The waters on the island of Tuvalu (the tidal benchmark) are receding.  This is one of the crisis places of the world that was supposed to be drowned along with the Statue of Liberty.  So Tim, your views are biased and calling people flat-Earther’s because they don’t sign up for the pseudo science you have bought into is ridiculous, like your views.

Epilogue:

I got out of this assignment because I couldn’t lie for the company, nor lie to myself by doing something I didn’t believe in and realized was a lie.  It’s lost its mojo because both the premise of Sustainability and climate change are based on predictive models that aren’t true. The fact that IBM doesn’t really do anything (other that trying to keep up with the Jones) was too much for me to take, and claim any sense of honesty.  My credibility is more important than getting a paycheck for lying.  I’d never make it as a politician.

I left the position right before a green conference where Al Gore was the speaker.  It was the second time in my IBM career that I made a conscious decision to avoid him so as to not listen to his spew about global warming, nor be disappointed in humanity by seeing so many people being fooled by this scam based on redistribution of money to the climate warriors.

I told James that it was good that Gore wasn’t president on 9/11/2001 as he couldn’t lead a lottery winner to any bank (other than his bank account), let alone a nation in a real crisis.  Being a good liberal, he was offended since he knew it was true and couldn’t defend his hero.  He, like Biden and Cheney were only impeachment insurance for their respective presidents.al gore Horses-Ass-Award

So having to lie to defend Climate anything, especially at IBM when I understood the facts makes it hard to be green.  I’ve moved on to something I can be honest about.

The position went away as it became “under the guise of everything is sustainable” – (more lies) that we didn’t need a person babysitting it anymore.  The real truth is that it didn’t develop into an issue like diversity that a company could be blackmailed into payment or bad PR due to non-compliance.  It just went away as did the fake committment to global warming by my employer.