George E. Gercken, Ph.D.

Congratulations! Your lofty ambition to be at the center, the hub, the nexus, of an organization is laudable. But, just what does an executive do? How should you comport yourself? What are the requirements, the demand characteristics of such a calling?

Your answer is that you want to 'lead,' to go where no person has gone before. This means you wish to inspire others, to have them achieve feats that were otherwise thought impossible, to have your name go down in the annals of corporate history as one who made a difference. Wow, that's impressive, but how are you going get there from here?

There is this matter of 'fiduciary responsibility' that might help. That's a legal term having to do with a "person who holds property in trust for the benefit of others." As an executive your job is to serve the organization for the benefit of others That means any action you take, any utterance that goes counter to this definition is inappropriate and, likely, quite ineffective. Your ability and your willingness to accept that things either go well or poorly because of your efforts are certainly steps in the right direction.

Now, you might be thinking that executives execute people and things ... well, at least things, and, unfortunately, occasionally people, in a job sense. Oddly enough this 'execute' business is really right on. But the main and first person/task you must execute, is yourself. No matter how exalted your title/position is, if you can't execute yourself, you can’t execute others. Daddy may own the biz; you may have been chosen from stacks of others as the bright one to lead us out of the wilderness. But, if you cannot get yourself together, if you do not know what you are about, if you cannot be horribly consistent in demands upon yourself and others, you're just a wannabe, not an executive. No amount of 'visioneering,' team training, focus group input will save you. Good people have options. In fact, in this day and age, not-so-good people have them. That, combined with the mantra that college grads are told they will have seven jobs in their career, makes for an interesting challenge. If you cannot gain and maintain credibility with others, be that person that they aspire to be, you are not an executive of today. At best you will be, and be seen as, an amateur. At worst you will be seen as someone who has words but no substance. People aren't stupid. Most of them have heard much of what you are saying before. It's not the lofty mission statements, but the day-to-day, trench slogging actions you take that will make people believers or cynics.

This, of course, means that you should be perfect, right? That is your definition, and part of the reason that you do not achieve and have not achieved nearly as much as you really can. That quirky part of us, that finger pointing, judging, tongue-lashing judge within, where really good is not good enough, is a key culprit in this scenario, unless of course you just lack character, are fundamentally flawed and wouldn't know truth if it hit you in the face. It depends upon what the meaning of "is" is. In that case, go to the head of the class and don’t let things like veracity trouble you. As they say in academia, we can deconstruct the meaning of the word/event to mean what we want. Doesn't this sound a bit like Alice in Wonderland or is it Washington? No, the issue is not being a psychopath (someone lacking a conscience). It is the fear that we cannot live up to our own personal advanced billing. In most cases it is not that you care too little, but that you care too much, and you are not convinced that you possess the right stuff to pull it all off. So, you obfuscate, lie to yourself, act out these fears. "Who are they to challenge me?" "Perhaps if I just shade things a bit, give them the corporate line, they won't ask too many questions." Recently, I was told of an executive who left an airport and mistakenly proceeded to drive in the opposite direction of where he wanted to go. He realized it early on but drove for forty minutes to pick up another roadway so he did not have to admit to his people that he made a mistake. Who do you think he really didn't want to deal with?

Being an effective consultant I should now be providing you with a twenty-question test to determine if you are a fit executive. If you score above 75 you're O.K. and shouldn't worry. Below that you'd better watch out for your executive-potential-aura-animal magnetism needs realignment. But, you know who you are. External validation pales in comparison to how you judge yourself!