The other night, I read an article in Maclean’s magazine on Marcel Aubut, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee. To quote Maclean’s, “At 66, Aubut has no intention of slowing down. “I’m built like a Caterpillar work boot. I’m an unusually high performer. I think I was born to make a difference in the world,” he says.””
Mr. Aubut is driven to succeed at any cost. His path to success is figuratively littered with the bodies of those who try and support him, but cannot meet his expectations. “Every other month, on average, one of Aubut’s assistants quits, often in tears. “It looks like we have a huge turnover,” he says. “All I can say is, it’s hard to find the right person for the job.””
I have never met Mr. Aubut, but clearly he shares some traits with similarly driven senior managers such as Steve Jobs and Winston Churchill. Messianic in their views, they believe they are unique, put here on earth to make a special contribution.
And Mr. Aubut has made a special contribution. The coffers of the COC have never been so replete with funds.
So the question is: does success justify bad behaviour?
Leaders who shout at and intimidate their staff remind me of feudal lords of the manor. Somehow the extent of their achievements silences peers, shareholders and employees, and this tacit acceptance of their behaviour allows them to continue in their ways. Jobs was legendary for his offensive behaviour. He was ruthless on destroying the self-worth of anyone he considered a fool. But he is (and was) hailed as a great leader, due to the success of the product he created.
History is awash with stories of great achievers who became so consumed with their end goal that anything – or anyone – perceived to be blocking their way was deemed expendable.
There is too much bullying in business. Of course, a CEO who understands task achievement is critical. But success can be achieved if tasks are requested in a respectfully demanding manner from employees, by setting clear expectations, and through the provision of space to apply the employees’ own creativity and solutions to the challenges delegated to them.
I believe that CEOs are accountable to create great places to work, and not a concentration camp, a place where employees dread coming into work as they may be subject to retribution, ridicule, pain and disgrace.