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DeWese--Is Anybody Listening?

March 2000
I don't think anybody listens anymore. But lots of people seem compelled to know everything. Even if they admit to little knowledge about some subject, they still have an opinion—and they express it freely and with great conviction. It's as if the more you know or the stronger your opinion, the stronger you are. As a consequence, if you presume to know everything and keep doing the talking, then you can control your life and the people around you.

A lot of CEOs suffer from knowing everything. You have seen it happen. Promote a regular guy to CEO and suddenly—it goes with the big office—he knows everything: what's wrong with sales and how to fix it; what's wrong with the plant and how to fix it; what the customers want and how to deliver it. After all, he's paid to know.

Some of you may have participated in meetings with the CEO in the conference room. He sits at the head of the table. You and a few other people sit at the table while the CEO talks. He ventilates and opines. You and your colleagues nod and agree. After all, he is the CEO. He thinks you're agreeing with his opinions but you aren't buying. As in the old fable, the emperor has no clothes and you're not telling him.

Let me dig into my Dysfunctional Printing Company file and see if I can't find an example of a CEO who doesn't listen. This one looks good. It dates back a few years and I'll change some of the numbers and the facts so you can't guess who it is. Matter-of-fact, I'll call the company Dysfunctional Litho; I'll call the CEO Joe Ray Smart.

Joe Ray and his three sisters, Claudia, Paula and Harriet, inherited the company from their daddy, the late great Claude Paul Harold Smart. Everybody used to call him CPH. You might say that the four children were members of the printing industry's famous lucky sperm club. Claudia, Paula and Harriet were all married and "wimmen," so it was only natural that their brother should run the company. Besides, he'd been hanging around in the sales department since he dropped out of college. The sisters were confident that Joe Ray would grow their inheritance, send them generous dividend checks and pay them well to sit on the board of directors.

The New Generation
One of Joe Ray's first acts was to expand CPH's old office. He commissioned a contractor to knock down the walls of two adjoining offices and triple the room's size. Daddy never spent much time in it because most of his 12-hour days were spent wandering the plant, commiserating with employees and calling on customers. Joe Ray would comment, "Oh, how daddy loved to waste time visiting with people."

 

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