Can Largecorp succeed with a charismatic leader?
The Senior Management Team of CRAP, Up Up and Away Toronto and New York during the thirty years I worked for them had the charm and magnetism with rank-and-file employees that amounted to that of fruit flies. They were mostly dry and soulless number crunchers only happiest amongst themselves and their power egos.
If we ask who has galvanized the masses we might point to Pierre Elliot Trudeau, René Lévesque, Winston Churchill, Hitler or JFK. The SMT in most instances really has no connection with its employees. It is above them. It despises them and treats them as commodities to be traded, terminated and abused of course in the name of shareholder value and silently to further their executive compensation!
In my many years with CRAP and Up Up and Away Toronto I had one charismatic leader at Up Up and Away Toronto that made a lasting impact on me and particularly his care and concern for employees. This CEO would walk the floors and introduce himself and ask how things could be improved to make the employee’s lives better. I could not quite figure out if it was altruistic or a clever façade but it was delivered with apparent sincerity.
This means a great deal for most of the workforce that had been treated like expendable commodities. It instilled a sense of purpose and gratitude for being recognized for more than simply being a cog in the wheel. It generated enthusiasm.
A CEO that introduced children’s Christmas parties, that introduced free employee Christmas parties and golf tournaments, that created quarterly management updates with pizza and KFC lunches and that celebrated promotions by taking out his middle management team to his club to celebrate.
His attitude had a magical effect. Employees stretched themselves willingly to reach corporate goals. The atmosphere was happy and celebratory with each business win. Cheers could be heard with each victory.
Momentum built and Up Up and Away Toronto ripped through the Canadian marketplace due in large part to our very first Toronto based CEO and the employees he inspired.
Anything seemed possible. Morale was sky high. But as Up Up and Away Toronto started to plateau and become a mature business in Canada, Up Up and Away in its relentless search for increasing profits could no loner tolerate Up Up and Away’s Toronto CEO and he was terminated although that fact was never really revealed. He had been generously packaged off and instead he “retired”.
After this “retirement” a succession of technically proficient CEOs attempted to fill the void of Up Up and Away’s Toronto charismatic CEO and they fit the bill for the SMT of Up Up and Away New York but they made no connection with Up Up and Away’s Toronto employees. They were little more than faceless figureheads and morale plummeted.
Employee alienation replaced employee enthusiasm. The wise Toronto Up Up and Away SMT having no meaningful connection with its employees had no idea about the impact of the departure of its charismatic CEO. The SMT governs but usually in blindness and incompetence.
Our dear departed CEO moved on to become CEO of another large Canadian largecorp where he steered it to record high profits.
In rare instances a charismatic leader can make a difference to employee engagement because that leader connects with employees, recognizes their accomplishments, rewards these accomplishments and cares about employees. A rebel within the SMT!