Several months ago, I wrote about a recent letter by Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey, the famously underpaid chief executive who at the time was perceived to be America’s best performing CEO.
His fall from grace is yet another example of the undermined public faith in the role of CEO. (Mackey recently wrote disparaging remarks about the CEO of a competing organization to create a better position for his takeover of the company. He later issued a press release apologizing for the remarks, but was widely criticized for the act.)
In a recent survey of 1,500 U.S. business managers and executives of what they thought of the “top boss,” the overall report card illustrated high marks for intellect and ethics but woefully low grades for accessibility and compassion.
This report card did include some good news – CEOs received high scores for ethics and intelligence and their ability to deliver results – but poor grades in social skills like the ability to inspire, be compassionate, and approachability. (They were also overwhelmingly voted to be grossly overpaid.)
In some areas, there was a large disconnect between the high marks CEOs gave themselves and the scores they were given by their employees. For example, CEOs believed that they have the ability to listen to innovative ideas from low-level staff, but almost 25% of employees perceived that good ideas “rarely” or “never” made their way up the food chain. This points to a potential blind spot in getting an objective view of performance by the CEO and raises the question of whether a CEO must be well liked by his employees to do a good job.
But employees don’t see everything a CEO does and CEOs are held accountable for things completely out of their control. It may not be fair, but it often doesn’t matter who is right or wrong. The CEO is seen as the captain of the ship and negative perceptions of the CEO are a telltale sign that not everyone is aligned with where he wants to take the mission and vision of the company.
So, the issue isn’t whether the evaluation of the CEO is unfair but that the employees’ perception is a reflection of their reality. When an employee gives low grades to a CEO, it is a direct indication that the CEO is not meeting that employee’s needs and the only issue thereafter should be how to fix it.