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BlogExecutive dysfunction and Games in the C-suite

Executive dysfunction and Games in the C-suite

egoistIn “Games at work” we pointed out that senior leaders – and CEO’s in particular -  are vulnerable to game playing due to two factors:

(a)    the anxiety they feel resulting from great accountability and great privilege. Games can be seen by the games-player as a way of reducing anxiety in the short run (only).
(b)    They may possess ego’s that veer towards narcissism, hubris, and paranoia when under stress.

As a tragic example of this let’s examine what happened at Pfizer

under Jeff Kindler as CEO and Mary McLeod as SVP HR. Kindler was CEO at Pfizer from July 2006 until he was asked to leave in December 2010 (during this time stock price went down from 26$ to 16$). By then, the management team reportedly had “descended into behaviors that would make Machiavelli proud.”
Kindler was a top trial lawyer who had previously worked as general counsel of McDonalds. However, he was very anxious in this new role. “For all Kindler's talents, he remained palpably insecure, acutely sensitive to anything or anyone he feared might undermine his standing.” This anxiety led to a number of destructive games:
- Pecking Order: Mary McLeod, the company head of HR, was treated differently than all the others. She had his ear, used her power to control access to him, and herself played the game “The Boss Said”.  A destructive influence, Kindler apparently called (admiringly) “Neutron Mary” after his hero Jack Welsh. She had infamous access to company helicopters for commuting from Delaware at a time when Pfizer was downsizing. She became feared, and one of the executive team said "There was Mary and Jeff, and then there was the rest of us."
- Outsourcing Management to Consultants: anxious about his relative outsider status, he was very reluctant to put any trust in long term employees of Pfizer, and preferred to listen to consultants. “For all of Kindler's lack of pharma experience, he didn't seem to trust Pfizer veterans that did have it. … he employed swarms of consultants, working on initiatives to reorganize Pfizer into business units (instead of geographical regions), change reporting lines, and trim bureaucracy.”
- Soothing Guilt: Kindler could be particularly vicious to team members in public. At a 2008 retreat he publicly berated Read (who incidentally became the CEO after Kindler) which made the other team members cringe. However sometimes after his angry outbursts he would send flowers to women the day after he had brought them to tears. One executive said: "Don't call me at five o'clock in the morning and rip my face off, then call me at 11 o'clock at night and tell me how much you love me."


Through all of this there was a narcissism that was expressed by Kent Bernard, one of his colleagues: "Jeff seemed to believe he was the only smart guy in the room." His failure to move from “coping” with anxiety by playing games, to “caring” and working in an open way with his colleagues to work through the very real challenges Pfizer had, let to much misery for employees and shareholders alike. 

Fortune, “Inside Pfizer’s Palace Coup” July 2011 http://features.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2011/07/28/pfizer-jeff-kindler-shakeup/
“Revenge, Betrayal and Power: What happened at Pfizer?” http://worldofdtcmarketing.com/revenge-betrayal-and-power-what-happened-at-pfizer/bad-practices/

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Token Involvement

To play Token Involvement, a manager conducts opinion surveys, focus group, or involvement meetings to communicate that "your opinion matters", but these activities are done only to make people feel involved rather than actually to involve them. The real intention is just to get rid of the complaints and for managers to show their management that they´re doing the "right" thing-involving their people in the decision-making process. The same game is played when leaders involve their direct reports supercially, soliciting their views on department strategy but relying exclusively on their views on department strategy but relying exclusively on thei own view. Cynicism becomes employees´ultimate response to this game, and they lose respect for management. Perhaps evens worse, when management really needs employees to be committed and contribuing to a major project, they have great difficulty securing this involvement.


Praise for Games at Work

jacopoA terrific read not only for senior leaders and executives but also for employees seeking growth in complex organizations. Goldstein and Read dissect the interpersonal dynamics that affect a company’s performance, provide a framework to understand the games that are commonly played in businesses around the world, and offer practical tools to correct these behaviors and improve the organization’s effectiveness.

Jacopo Bracco Executive Vice President DIRECTV Latin America

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