Don’t confuse enthusiasm with capability…all is never what it seems.

The Chief Executive (CEO) of a large UK company spends, on average, around 4.8 years in their job. This means if you’ve worked in the same organisation for many, many years in any senior capacity, then you’ve probably experienced corporate leadership change. Whenever CEO change happens, for whatever reason, there are choppy waters. There’s normally a period of uncertainty, new corporate level leadership appointments, strategic review, and organisation ‘rationalisation’ and some restructuring. If the new CEO is sourced externally there will inevitably be an influx of new direct reports and advisers, mostly people the CEO knows from other organisations. This heralds uncomfortable times for loyal employees already holding senior roles.

The Badger’s experienced a number of CEO changes and has learned not to confuse their enthusiasm with true capability, regardless of their advertised track record. Some years ago, a long tenure (14 years) CEO was replaced by an outsider, an experienced executive whose career had been in another major corporate. Soon after the new CEO had arrived and had appointed a swathe of externally sourced of new direct reports into key corporate roles, the Badger attended their first leadership conference targeted at introducing the new regime and aligning everyone with its objectives. Enthusiasm from the new CEO and his new team was unreproachable.

Nevertheless, the Badger vividly remembers taking just two things from the conference. The first was that the new CEO spoke using only management jargon from corporate management handbooks. The second was that enthusiasm is no substitute for knowing your audience and showing that you are capable. One of the new CEO’s young direct reports proudly brandished a 5-litre bottle of cooking oil and told the audience to up their game because a cooking oil company (WIPRO) was competing in the IT services business. The experienced audience rolled their eyes because offshoring to India was already embraced across the company. The cooking oil whippersnapper had enthusiasm and energy… but capability? The audience didn’t think so. The whippersnapper quickly earned the nickname ‘Tigger’ after the character in Winnie the Pooh. It was a nickname that stuck.

Everyone, including the Badger, left the conference wondering if the new, enthusiastic, ‘new blood’ corporate team were actually capable of changing the company’s fortunes.  No, as it happens. The CEO and his appointees were gone within 4 years leaving the company in no better shape than when they started. So, when a new CEO comes on the scene, trust your instincts and don’t confuse enthusiasm with capability. Remember, all is never what it seems in the corporate world. Don’t assume the motives and ambitions of incoming leaders are anything more than short term regardless of what they might tell you. Above all, look at your current CEO. If they’ve been in place for around 5 years then be on the lookout for another change in the corporate merry-go-round!


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