Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dangers of an Inexperienced Executive

The Shirley Sherrod story is a perfect case study for why governments full of career politicians and devoid of any real world executive experience are ineffective and downright dangerous.

In a world that revolves around 24/7 “news” coverage, re-election campaigns, approval ratings, the results of the latest Gallop polls and other self-serving political maneuverings, the things that executives should be focused on – little things like sticking to a budget, maintaining employee engagement and motivation, making a payroll, staying solvent, etc. - tend to take a back seat to pure politics.

Imagine being summoned to your boss’s office where he shows you a 20 second YouTube clip, edited by some random guy, of your recent speech at an industry forum. The content of that 20 second clip, when watched in a vacuum, is admittedly very controversial and is in direct conflict with your current job description. However, you know that the speech evolves to demonstrate that the ideas expressed in that 20-second clip are in fact inappropriate, and the speech, when taken as a whole, is actually very powerful and inspirational.

When the clip ends, your boss fires you. Pack up and leave the building immediately. We’re not interested in your side of the story. Bu-Bye.

Before you’ve left your boss’s office, the CEO of your Company has issued a public statement through his press secretary condemning your views and assuring its shareholders that your views don’t represent the views of the Company.

For about 5 minutes, Company executives walk around with chests puffed out feeling great about how they found a problem and dealt with it swiftly before its critics could take the story too far. The three random bloggers who also saw and condemned the clip can no longer rage on about it. Wow, what a relief.

5 minutes after that, HR starts their due diligence around the firing and the very first thing they do is find the entire speech. Uh-Oh. HR sends the full speech around and everyone who reads it is horrified to find out that the grainy YouTube clip was in fact edited in such a way that it totally misrepresents the actual message in the speech. Therefore, a hard-working and loyal employee was just sent out to pasture because the Company was too caught up in its own politic to take 30 minutes out of its day and perform some due diligence on the clip. 5 minutes of searching and 20 minutes of listening/reading the speech and it would have been clear as day that the 20 second YouTube clip was not representative of the speech as a whole. The employee should have been commended for such a speech, not fired.

Before you’ve finished packing up your desk, you boss comes running back to you apologizing and begging you to stay. Your CEO’s press secretary has now issued another public statement apologizing for their haste.

What’s the message in all of this?

You and all of your colleagues now realize that the Company would gladly throw its employees under the bus to avoid any type of political crisis, real or fictional. How much confidence would you have in your CEO if this happened at your Company?

It’s a rhetorical question, this would never happen at your Company because its run by an experienced executive who actually requests all the facts before making any decisions, especially a decision to publically trash the character of a hard-working and successful employee based solely on an edited 20-second clip posted on YouTube.

Unfortunately, as we all now know, the Shirley Sherrod story is a very real life example of this shameful behavior starring the United States Department of Agriculture as the Company, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as the boss and President Obama as the CEO.

The lack of real life executive experience within the White House continues to rear its ugly head. The White House’s incredibly amateurish and politicized treatment of the Shirley Sherrod events is a crystal clear example of the dangers of having inexperienced executives in and around the Oval Office.


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