It was a chance meeting on a plane, and I was lucky to have a seatmate who shared my feelings about customer service and leadership.
We started out talking about the abysmal way airlines treat business passengers. We discussed the disparity in airline fares and how business customers seem to get the raw end of the deal, even though they are the big spenders when it comes to air travel. Most of the time business travelers are charged more because their trades require them to fly on a moment's notice. Meanwhile, occasional vacationers can make reservations far in advance and take advantage of the price reductions that accompany Saturday stay-overs.
Next we got into the subject of how crowded flights make travelers feel like sardines. We both agreed it was no longer fun traveling on business.
Eventually, we got around to a topic near and dear to my heart: the sad state of corporate leadership today.
The gentleman I sat with is a partner in a big, well-known accounting firm. We began talking about egos and how some top managers don't have a clue about working with people. Then he told me about a $75 million company in a small town in Pennsylvania and how he had been assigned the task of selling off the firm's assets and organizing things before it was shut down.
He claimed that after only five minutes with the CEO he understood why the company was failing. The executive was totally selfish and only concerned about his own "golden parachute." He didn't seem to have any regard for the other 600 employees in the company, many of whom had worked there for years. Furthermore, the loss of 600 jobs would devastate the town, which already had a 30% unemployment rate.
The CEO blamed the company's problems on an undescribed "union problem." So my accounting friend decided to visit the factory and look at the machinery and inventory.
It turned out the CEO had posted two security guards to make sure nobody from the factory floor could enter the executive offices unannounced. To say the least, things were tough. While examining an aluminum window, he was approached by three union stewards who asked what he was up to. He explained that he once had aluminum windows and could never get them to go up and down without busting some screws. The union stewards laughed, they all shook hands, and the men told the accounting firm representative that it had been two years since anyone from the executive suite had been on the factory floor.
The CEO may have been the titular head of this company, but he failed the leadership test. A leader has to mix with his or her people. A leader understands the value of walking around the organization and letting people know he or she cares about them. Morale and productivity suffer when executives hide in a cocoon or ivory tower.
Big egos and arrogant behavior mirror insensitivity and selfishness. They shouldn't be tolerated in any workplace. Serving the interests of your employees, on the other hand, leads to success and profits, as study after study proves. So don't just sit there; get out and be with your people.
It's important, Charles S. Lauer Publisher