It happened again.

A community hospital CEO is terminated.  Publicly the board spokes person said that the  executive decided to pursue other opportunities in the industry.  It just wasn’t a good fit.

In this case, the CEO, frustrated with what he saw as board interference with his job, became more secretive, and encouraged his administrative team to aid and abet his efforts to keep the board from “knowing too much.”   He terminated some employees who were well-connected “downtown” without consulting with the board Chair who would have been happy to explain the relationship between the business office manager, one of the people the CEO had fired (in front of his team by the way),  and the County Judge — they are cousins.  Another person he let go was the sister of a well-liked local pastor.   Yes, there were performance issues with the affected employees but this was more about the CEO establishing his authority to run day-to-day operations without the involvement of the board.

Bad idea.

Ego and pride are two of the biggest career management threats.  Are their times when boards do overstep their bounds?  Absolutely, but trying to prove who is in control — allowing the ego to overwhelm pragmatic, savvy political judgment — is a fool’s errand.

Sometimes a CEO begins to fantasize that he or she is indispensable and irreplaceable to an organization, that the people ultimately responsible for the well-being of the enterprise — the board — don’t really understand what it takes to run a hospital.

Lloyd Carney, CEO at Brocade, says his grandfather taught him an important lesson Carney.Lloyd.BucketTestthat has served his career well. It is called the bucket test. 

Carney told Adam Grant of the New York Times Corner Office column that his grandfather used the following demonstration to show an employee who had allowed his ego to convince himself that he was irreplaceable to the organization, an immutable truth.   He told his grandson to get a bucket of water.

“So I brought the bucket of water to the room, and he said, “Lloydie, put your hand in the water.” Then I took it out, and he said to his employee, “See that hole that Lloyd left in the water? That’s the hole you’re going to leave when you leave here.”

The best leaders are not those who are supremely confident that they know best.  Most of the time they don’t, especially when it comes to anticipating  the pesky “culture politics.”  The great leaders are the ones who understand that there is no such thing as  six degrees of separation in smaller cities and towns — it is usually .25 –  and who demonstrate their true leadership skills by achieving change by navigating through those perilous waters.  Yes, it can be a pain in the backside, but so are  many of the other challenges a CEO must face.

If do you not have the strong support of the leadership team and the board, you are either politically tone-deaf, or you made the wrong career and/or job choice.   You saw yourself as a boss, not as an inspirational facilitator and coach who gets things done because the team chooses to follow and the board becomes an important sounding board.