Just An Illusion

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Is this a shot from your evening last night, soon to be posted on your instaGLAM account? Today a great many executives, managers, investors and board members are busy trying to be someone that they are not. Fact. They are instantly recognisable by the disparity between the image that they project and what others see.

At a small intimate event last night in London with David Nish, the past CEO of Standard Life and this week appointed as a Non-Executive Director at  HSBC, we discussed the dynamics and consequences of this behaviour.

The dynamics and behaviour are largely the same in businesses of every size. Individuals are prone to projecting views without hard evidence or strong anecdotal information (shout loudest). They are poor listeners (routinely ignore vital feedback). They lack sufficient self-worth in their own talent and judgement (resort to bolstering their credentials with references to famous names). They have a poor level of self-esteem (they are dismissive of others success). They are prone to passive aggressive behaviour to project superiority (constant one-upmanship). They are prone to excessive exaggeration or downright lies about their own success (false claims in bios, CV’s/Resumes). We’ve all met them at various points in our career.

The consequences differ based on the size, priorities and complexity of the organisation. Here are some observations from my own experiences:

An inability to effect a management buyout of a small or family business, where the Founder’s behaviour results in management never acquiring the skills, traits or expertise to run the business in his or her absence.

A loss of respect for a private investor’s judgement amongst their peers and future co-investment opportunities when they make wild, unfounded claims to be invested in the “next unicorn“. Ridiculous, of course but sadly all too often true.

Raging management distrust in the Board when a non-executive director relays unsubstantiated “insider” claims from a key client, institutional investor or employees about the manager’s negative performance without hard evidence or strong anecdotal information.

A destruction of goodwill amongst analysts and the media when the newly appointed CEO of an investment bank, self-invested with “superman” powers, promises near instant changes to the business model that his predecessors have taken decades to create.

The world is littered with people trying to be someone that they are not. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter couldn’t survive if that human need dissipated. We all have a reputation that precedes us in the hyper-connected world we live in. Reinvention, acquiring new skills and educating others is something that we must constantly commit to but without absolute credibility (tangible results and visible behaviour), it is just an illusion.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

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