Does it matter to stakeholders when boards don't tell the truth about why a CEO is leaving?
A couple of high-profile CEO resignations in Vancouver this week got me wondering: do stakeholders expect the board of directors to be transparent about the reasons underlying a CEO's untimely departure? Do they believe the published account put forth by the PR folks? I think I can safely answer 'not usually' to the second question. Sometimes the situation is what it seems - health reasons, family reasons, turns out not to be the job they want. But often, there is something else going on. And a couple of conversations (thanks to the universal law of 'six-degrees of separation') can quickly get you closer to the truth.
The number one reason people leave jobs and companies is to escape their boss. CEOs are just like the rest of us. An unexpected CEO departure frequently has its roots in the relationship between the CEO and the board, often the board chair. There is a mis-alignment of vision. There is no chemistry. The CEO isn't listening or open to coaching. The board chair is meddling. The board is being pressured by key stakeholders around results. The board has questions about the CEO's style, decisions, leadership effectiveness. The CEO railroads the board. The board tramples the CEO. The board is suspicious information is being withheld. The CEO is suspicious the board is talking to people behind his back. The board feels the CEO they have isn't the one they thought they hired. The CEO discovers the job she was pitched doesn't match the one she is doing. With one CEO and 10 board members, most of whom have pretty strong egos, the potential for dysfunctional interpersonal dynamics to emerge is not insignificant. And once it starts, it does not take much to spiral someone right out the door. That person is, almost always, the CEO.
This takes me back to my first question: does it matter to stakeholders when boards don't tell the whole truth about why the CEO is leaving?
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Rebecca Schalm, Ph.D.
Founder & CEO