Has Bad Behavior Irreparably Damaged the Title CEO?: Fortunately “Good” CEOs Are Still Out There

By Suzanne
Bates, Author of Motivate Like a CEO: Communicate your Strategic Vision and Inspire People to Act!

Day after day we’re being pummeled by news of bad CEO
behavior, so much that you have to conclude that America’s business executives
are incapable of getting the message–its time for restraint. In the last
couple of weeks there’s been one egregious example after another of excess,
greed and sheer stupidity. It’s so ridiculous that you’d have to conclude these
CEOs aren’t just out of touch… they simply don’t care.

From the $18.4 billion in bonuses paid out by Wall
Street last year, to the news that former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain spent
$1.22 million to redecorate his office; and word that Citigroup had planned
(and later denied they would) purchase a $50 million 12-seat luxury jet– after
getting $45 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds. So you have
to wonder why aren’t CEOs at least afraid of how these actions might be
perceived? They’re not just inviting regulators to their doorsteps, they’re
risking their company’s hard-won brands and possibly their own high-flying

Has the title of Chief Executive Officer been irreparably
damaged by all this news? In the court of public opinion, yes – no question –
the title has lost respect. Yet, across America, there are countless CEOs who
are doing the right thing, i.e., rolling up their sleeves and working hard to
keep their companies on course. These CEOs won’t make headlines but some are
downright heroic as they try to keep their employees on the job and do right by
their customers.

For example, the once
retired chairman and owner of a commercial lending bank in Arizona is staying
in his empty house, sleeping on an air mattress.  His family had moved to
the Northeast but he came back to the Southwest after the real estate collapse
threatened his bank’s survival.  He is working 14 hour days, away from his
family for weeks at a time, going out every day speaking to customers, and
spending hundreds of hours negotiating with bank examiners and creditors, to
buy time. 

This executive isn’t just
making decisions for the sake of appearances – he simply will not tolerate
excess.   He fired his CEO for taking home unwarranted commissions,
recovered the company car that his CEO drove (a $100,000 Range Rover), listed
it for sale on Craig’s list, and purchased a used Passat for himself so he
could sensibly commute to the bank every day.  

While some CEOs are
splurging, plundering and pillaging their businesses, the vast majority are
not. And if you look around in your own community, you realize that you know
these good folks. They are your neighbors and friends who are not taking
home a paycheck right now, they’re instead lending money back to their
businesses, agonizing over layoffs, working late into the night, negotiating
with creditors and virtually killing themselves to stay afloat.

So though a few highly
questionable CEOs have besmirched the title, it stands to reason that most
chief executives, whether from a Fortune 1000 firm or a small, midsize concern,
remain passionate about their businesses and just as devoted as ever to their
employees and customers. They’ve made personal sacrifices while asking their
employees to do the same, and they don’t need federal regulators to tell them
what is right – their judgment is all they need. Plus, their principles are on
display every single day, in the form of the decisions they make. This is the true spirit
of American business which will not be corrupted or compromised by greed or
selfish interests.

Many people out there aspire to be a CEO one day – for
them it would mark the pinnacle of their career. This part isn’t going to
change just because of a few bad examples. Becoming CEO or president of a
company is a responsibility that most people take very seriously. That’s why
it’s important for good CEOs to keep doing the right thing and setting a good
example for the rest. For the CEO title to regain credibility with the American
public, the media probably also needs to start taking note of these good guys
and good women.

Tremendous government pressure will be exerted upon
CEOs –for awhile at least – until the economy is back on track. President Obama
will try to use a bully pulpit to achieve this, taking steps like sending
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geitner to Wall Street to deliver a message that
these CEOs’ actions are unacceptable.

There’s word too that New York Attorney General Andrew
Cuomo may demand the return of $4 billion in bonuses paid by Merrill Lynch
& Co just before it was acquired by Bank of America Corp. Cuomo wants to
know what Bank of America Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis knew about the
accelerated bonuses and about Merrill’s surprise $15 billion net loss in the
fourth quarter, one source told the agency.

CEO pay will remain in the news too. The CEO of a
Standard and Poor’s 500 company made, on average, about $14 million in total
compensation in 2007. Senator Claire McCaskill’s initially offered a bill
capping executive pay at companies accepting federal bailout dollars at
$400,000 a year, what President Obama makes. President Obama has now followed
suit with a proposal for a $500,000 cap.

As an executive coach who has worked with outstanding
business leaders over the years, I wrote a book called “Motivate Like a CEO”
because I believe there are many, many examples of motivating, inspiring
leaders out there who are connecting people with purpose and passion toward a
common goal. This might be the highest definition of leadership, in addition to
the countless leaders out there who go to work every day passionate about what
they do and who know how to empower others to achieve great things.

In today’s current business climate, we certainly need
more leaders like this, who can genuinely communicate and motivate their
organizations. People long to be a part of the turnaround, and they have many
of the answers to your company’s struggles right now. If you empower them and
harness their creativity and energy, you’ll accelerate your own recovery and
position yourself for growth as the economy recovers. You’ll also be
well-equipped to take advantage of the many opportunities that still exist,
even in these bewildering and turbulent times.

Copyright  ©
2009 Suzanne Bates, author of Motivate Like a CEO: Communicate your
Strategic Vision and Inspire People to Act!

Author Bio

Suzanne Bates is author of the new business best-seller
“Motivate Like a CEO, Communicate Your Strategic Vision and Inspire People to
Act!” (McGraw Hill 2009) as well as “Speak Like a CEO, Secrets for Commanding
Attention and Getting Results” (McGraw Hill 2005). She is President and CEO of
Bates Communications, an executive coaching firm.
www.bates-communications.com She is also author


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