I’m the first to name this recent medical discovery and you read it here first, in the New England Journal of Crummy Management. Sadly, CEO Syndrome is most often diagnosed by others, long before the CEO has any idea that the disease has struck. The CEO will be very resistant to the diagnosis at first and perhaps, permanently. The symptoms of CEO Syndrome are on the lists below.
CEO Syndrome is tricky because the CEO feels no pain; the agony is felt only by others. It starts with a confusing message that is hard to de-code because you won’t hear these actual words: “I’m the CEO and my ideas are right. I’m the expert here. Don’t expect me to listen to or do anything I don’t agree with.” It would be great if the afflicted CEO spoke the truth but they rarely do. Ignore their words and observe their behavior. When you see it, the Syndrome has taken hold. The behavior may look like any of these:
…Asks for debate and discussion but attacks those who do so.
…Tells employees they are empowered but criticizes constantly.
…Behaves nicely to customers but poorly to employees.
…Tells more often than asks.
…Never wrong. Always right. In own mind.
…Big on entitlement and special privileges – for self.
…Emotional outbursts with responses that are not tolerated in others.
…Inconsistent and contradictory behavior. Double standards abound.
…Never wrong. Always right. In own mind. (so nice we listed it twice).
…Frequently dispenses criticism yet rarely seeks or accepts it.
When diagnosed late it causes the CEO to become dictatorial and virtually unaware of others’ reactions. Yelling, insulting and threatening are some extreme symptoms.
Complete recovery has a low success rate. First reaction to the diagnosis is often denial which can last, um, forever. In a small number of cases, the CEO will be deeply motivated to kill the Syndrome before it kills the employees and the company. Only then can one hope for long-term recovery.
Self-diagnosis rarely works. You must ask others to weigh in. Look deeply at the pattern of your collective symptoms. Check all that apply:
…Members of your team rarely seek your opinion unless it’s required.
…You don’t get many invitations to join the team for lunch or drinks.
…You’re not “in on stuff.”
…Your door “is always open” but people aren’t lining up to come in.
…You Blackberry & take calls in meetings – but nobody else can.
…There are discussions, but your opinion prevails. You always win.
…You talk more than you listen. You tell more than you ask.
…You rarely say, “tell me what you think” without defending yourself.
…People choose their words carefully with you. And you like that.
…People pay you lots of compliments. And you like that.
…You give yourself special privileges. And you really like this.
If you have three or more symptoms you are in danger. Get a check-up; ask others to scan the list and tell you. Five or more and you have CEO syndrome. Seek treatment immediately.
Important alert: your job title doesn’t matter. CEO Syndrome can strike anyone. More and more, it develops early in non-CEO, younger managers. It is especially dangerous and hard to kill when that happens. Seek treatment immediately.