The upheavals in his life have been hard to miss: illegal drug use, verbal outbursts, inappropriate on-air language, allegations of drinking and driving, possible domestic abuse — and denials. So many denials.
And yet somehow Toronto’s mayor, Rob Ford, has managed to stay at the top, both in title and in public opinion polls. But what if this was a CEO of a private company?
“I’ve seen CEOs exited for much less offensive actions than we’re seeing right now,” said Richard Davis, president and CEO of Kilberry Leadership Advisors in Toronto.
“I’m sorry, when you’re smoking crack, buying illegal drugs, shaming our city by making lewd remarks… taking down our city’s reputation, you need to go.”
Most boards and shareholders expect CEOs to minimize risk and avoid the front page — while delivering meaningful results, he said.
“The job of the CEO involves public advocacy, ambassadorship, making the city feel proud and he’s just not delivering that. So if this were a CEO role, I’m sure he would not be in his current seat.”
It’s about a history of
behaviour, according to Vanessa Judelman, president of Mosaic People Development in Toronto. If, for example, an executive has too much wine at a company party, that’s one thing and it could be overlooked.
“Had a CEO been displaying dysfunctional behaviour continuously, he’d be removed most certainly,” she said.
A private company would be on top of these kinds of incidents pretty fast, considering there’s an accountability to shareholders, customers, the board of directors and employees that is built into the system, said Judelman.
And leadership is everything, she said, setting the tone for an organization’s culture, behaviour, work structures and how process-oriented or creative it is.
“If this behaviour’s ignored… the message you’re sending to people is ‘This organization does not have values, does not have morals and it’s OK to function in a way that’s misaligned with our current values,’” said Judelman.
Results count but…
While Ford keeps emphasizing his results in office, that’s just part of the equation — it’s also about good behaviour, ethics and trust, she said.
“It doesn’t matter what your results are, you can have the most phenomenal results, but if your values, your behaviour, your intentions, your motive don’t support your results, you’re not going to have the trust that you need. You’re not going to be able to be successful.”
If a leader has no credibility, he has no followers, and he can’t lead alone, said Davis.
“Leadership as a whole is not only about what you do, it’s about how do you do it and who you are. And, unfortunately, on all three of those fronts, he’s failed.”
Part of a leader’s role is to make people in her company and the community proud of her — not just deliver profits, he said.
“Part of their job is to be an ambassador, even as corporate CEO. So when you’re in a company that has a strong brand in the community, is well-known, you have to represent your company well… so if you’re not doing that aspect of your job, you have to go.”
Often, senior executives take a leave of absence for a health or mental health issue, said Davis, citing as an example Florida congressman Trey Radel who admitted to buying cocaine and took time off to deal with his problems.
Either way, corporate boards should have a succession plan in place to mitigate this kind of risk.
“What happens if your CEO… lands on the front page of the newspaper? Do you have a plan in place?” said Davis. “Boards talk about it, but when you actually drill down into what the plan is, in my experience, it’s not thorough and insufficient.”
The problem is it’s very hard to fire CEOs for cause and they have very complex contracts in place to protect them from being wrongly dismissed by a board, said Judelman.
“So a lot of boards pay them very generously and CEOs then have the option to gracefully leave to ‘pursue other opportunities,’” she said. To protect a company’s brand, “they slip quietly into the night.”
All along, the mayor has denied he has any addiction problem with alcohol or illegal drugs. But for many executives, the problem starts off as a social thing where they’re having to entertain clients or new partners, said Royce Dockrill, owner of rehab centre Valiant Recovery in Kelowna, B.C.
“Pretty soon, that ends up being you’re always entertaining somebody and it gets to the point that alcohol is such a regular routine and part of your life that when something does happen, the stress starts to come in, the economy falls apart, you go directly to the bottle because it’s such a familiar friend.”
And it can be very difficult trying to get them into treatment, he said.
“They’re typically very high-functioning individuals, like a high-functioning alcoholic. So they don’t necessarily feel the need, they feel that their business or corporation is running well with them the way they are… ‘I’m doing a good job, I don’t have problem, I don’t need to go get help.’”
Probably one-half of Valiant’s clients are self-referred, coming in on their own, while the other half are family trying to get help, said Dockrill. But the rehab centre can also conduct an intervention, typically at a neutral place such as a friend’s home.
“A work could certainly orchestrate it and implement it (but) typically it involves… the family and close loved ones because those relationships mean the most, oftentimes. But that’s not to discount that the work relationship isn’t valuable either.”
The effects of alcoholism can include loss of productivity, health-care costs and potential injuries to yourself and others, said Judelman.
“That’s been the interesting issue with Ford, in that (he’s said) ‘This is my personal business and it has nothing to do with my results.’ But the reality is it does affect your results and alcoholism interferes with your ability to perform,” she said.
“So the erratic behaviour that we’re seeing, the confrontation with other employees, the dysfunction of the leader’s team — those are all huge impacts that the alcoholism has, not only on the individual’s effectiveness but on their team’s productivity.”
While an employer can monitor the behaviour and performance of an executive who has a drinking problem, at some point it might have to recommend an EAP for an assessment and take appropriate disciplinary action, said Judelman. But as to whether a leave of absence or full termination is appropriate, that depends on the extent of the behaviour.
“Is it around deadlines, is it around incomplete assignments… is it around erratic behaviour, the appearance of being inebriated, the smell of alcohol? You have to gauge on the scale of disruptive to not disruptive. If the behaviour is very disruptive, then you have to package them out.”
In Ford’s case, it’s less about addiction and more a lack of maturity, said Davis.
“To me, that’s a critical leadership characteristic, if you think about it. He’s highly impulsive, he takes big risks, he’s got no filter in his communications — he says what’s on his mind, regardless of the consequences — he doesn’t take the higher ground, he treats his job like a football scrimmage…(with) temper tantrums… stomping his feet in anger and frustration — these are all signs of immaturity,” he said. “It’s not CEO behaviour, it’s the behaviour of a child.”
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