The recent alleged suicide by the managing director of a reputed corporate group raises questions about the trials and tribulations many top executives face today in their personal lives, not to speak of their work life.
It all begins with the predominant pressure of the marketplace, with shareholder expectations running high, triggering challenges downstream. The one in the corner room is accountable for the quarter-on-quarter results. His or her compensation is tied to business results, which often includes a factor called TSR (total shareholder return). This propels the CEO to take measures that spell higher returns in the marketplace, sometimes with or without guarantees of sustainability. This is evident from the peaks we see in the share price of a company and the sudden falls.
This pressure is constant, and leaves his feet on the wheels right through someone’s tenure. The CEO as an individual lives and breathes business performance and is left with little space for sensitivity to personal issues. The pile-up of personal issues continues to mount and reaches flashpoint. This is the moment of burnout and it needs to be handled with sensitivity, caution and patience, at the workplace and at home.
The clamour for ‘here and now’ carries its own risks. The chase to meet “shareholder expectations” constantly impedes a far-sighted approach, and gives place to myopic considerations. What companies often miss is that a clear communication setting out the long-term sustainability of the business can calibrate shareholder expectations in a realistic and rational frame. The claim to business success is to be judged by sustained business achievement over the years and not just by accomplishments on a quarterly basis. Companies that are built to last focus on long-term sustainability as against short-term victories per se. How many companies have sustained or improved their rankings in the Fortune 500 list over a five-year horizon?
Then comes the question: who is the alter ego at the top? With pressure and accountability as millstones around the neck, the CEO hardly has any avenue to seek counsel or a second opinion without fear of being judged. He is caught in a one-way traffic where the dictum simply is — succeed, succeed, succeed, and rule out failure as an outcome. Here is a Superman who carries the can for results gone wrong, however unrealistic they may be.
To some extent, the advent of executive coaches has provided one source in whom senior executives can afford to pour out their pressure and seek strategies to deal with them. Executive coaching, if taken seriously and addressed professionally, can to a large extent guide the CEO on the right course of action to deal with the agenda and work-life pressures. Essentially, corporates need to look at creating “listening posts” not just at the bottom of the organisational pyramid but also across, right up to the top.
It is high time corporates recognised this human need to give vent to the heart and mind. Boards need to realise it is after all a human being who is leading the business and not a robot. It is unfair to assume the infallibility of humans, whatever their motivation to perform and succeed or their creditable career histories.
What is critical is this: the risk is too high for the very same stakeholders who want them to succeed “at any cost”.
When I worked for a multinational, my CEO boss would take family breaks twice a year religiously. I remember, once at a cinema on a weekend, meeting him jostling in the crowd along with his family members. That was the strongest message from a CEO who clearly believed not just in the motions of a work-life balance but in being in sync with family realities of togetherness. The more the quality time spent with family that involves caring, sharing and listening, the better is the emotional proximity among the family members.
The crux of the challenge lies in not leaving gaps of emotional separation between family members; else it has the potential to take one down the alley of a breakdown.
As society, more so the leaders of the corporate world, navigate through the corporate world beset with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, there is a huge risk of their emotional alienation with the near and dear that can not only destroy a family but also put the business clock backwards by a significant period. The wake-up call is loud and clear.
Keywords: corporate world