Out of The Blue

The CEO just Quit; send in your best Rumour

19 Dec , 2016  

“I’ll start off with a frequently “gossiped” matter – “Why do CEOs quit?” The common answer within the corporate circle to this question is almost always negative – CEOs quit because shareholders and the board “booted them out” due to poor performance or fall out due to strategy or personality misalignment with key board members. This view is further compounded by the fact that since most CEOs are rewarded well for delivering results – consequential in them having very little room for blunders – the corporate world is “forced” to assume that a CEO’s resignation has everything to do with their “supposedly” substandard performance and beyond!”

I am compelled to substantiate it through personal accounts of how my resignation was received by peers and friends:

Did you have a fall out with your Super boss?” asked one of my ex-bosses when I told him that I’ve tendered my resignation as the MD of a Fortune 500 company.

A week later I bumped into a friend whom I haven’t come across for some time; got to talking about my notice; and his immediate response was, “What was your problem? They were not listening to you?

To place the last nail in the coffin, a Malaysian colleague of mine brashly said, “My notion is that you were asked to leave and got a nice severance package too!

I know I am a ‘difficult’ guy but wasn’t impressed that people who know me would think that I am so incompatible. It was difficult to digest that after 22 years with just 4 employers, people wouldn’t trust me to leave my employer amicably. If I was the fighting type, I would have quit every 4 months. On further reflection, I think it wasn’t me (the person) but the role I held which created the suspicion.  When someone at the top quits, we are more inclined to assume that there must have been a fall out. Think about it – how often do we give a CEO or someone senior a clean chit when they quit? Do we say that he found his calling elsewhere; he must have found something better so good for him? More often than not, our first reaction is “something doesn’t meet the eye”. Oh’ c’mon, why wouldn’t anyone think positive?

Yes, top roles are undeniably high stake roles; beyond performance, there’s the matter of relationships – with the executive management, the board and other key influencers within and outside the organization’s ecosystem. To a certain extent, we can come to an understanding that some of these relationships can and will change with one isolated incident but can we also agree that there are more cordial separations between a CEO (and people in senior and powerful roles) and an organization than the spiteful ones we read in the papers?

Let’s ask ourselves – why is the turnover of CEOs viewed with distrust?

I would choose to believe that not all of us detest those who are in senior roles. While there is an element of envy, there is no denying that many of us are motivated by these individuals and their triumphs; In short, we look up to these role models because they do more than influence our career aspirations; they positively shape our behaviors too as a result of the achievements they drive for the organizations they lead. Could it be because of these reasons we dissect each and every move they make?

Another theory of mine is about the kind of people who are in leadership roles – they regularly have stronger personalities and not surprising, as aggression is a “virtue” recognized as strength with senior folks. So when people who with such a persona quit, we invariably speculate that they must have had a fall out with higher authorities of an organization. Sometimes sheer context makes the gossip mill work harder. When one of my ex-bosses – who were the classmate of his CEO – decided to tender his resignation, the rest of us debated, “How can they part ways with 20 years of friendship? Surely something has gone sour!” Then there are CEOs who quit after a strategy meet with their super bosses and a few others when their peers were promoted over them. In these matters, context and timing become enemies of what otherwise in reality were amicable separations!

It is often enthused that senior folks are less likely to leave the helm of an organization if they are contented. Fair point, I’d say. However, just to challenge this “default” opinion why are we inclined to create murkier circumstances of these resignations?

Having been on both sides of the table, I confess that I too indulged in negative hypothesis on resignations of members of the senior clan. Now, whom to put the blame on – organization culture, our upbringing, or the darker side of our nature? Or could the real answer be thoroughly unprentensious – we lack “spice” in our lives hence would like to see it in the stories we tell of others!

Let me end this post by asking you this – what was your reaction when you last heard of a senior colleague leaving your organization? Like it or not, an honest answer from you will likely reflect the collective psyche of the rest of the corporate population. After all, haven’t we all received some of the most important information through the grapevine? http://kamalkaranth.com/grapevine-the-best-medium-for-organizational-communication/


I wish somebody would tape our mouths so we don’t wag our tongues too often!

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