In late March, I had a conversation with a headhunter in Silicon Valley. At a time of almost universal bad news, he had was upbeat about his business. I found his message unnerving.
In one day, he had received three inquiries to conduct CEO searches. The reason in all three cases? The current CEOs had determined that putting their businesses back together again would just be too hard. They didn’t need any more compensation, although their personal wealth had taken a hit in the previous two months. Quitting was the best thing for their wellbeing. This led panicked boards of directors to seek out this recruiter for searches.
I asked other search firms if they had seen the same phenomenon. Their immediate response made me think this was a one-off, or that the recruiter was just blowing smoke. But, over the next month or so, yes, there were more confirmed cases of COVID-related retirements. And the implication of this micro-trend was pretty startling to me:
In a time of unemployment rates approaching or surpassing 20%, we don’t have enough experienced CEOs.
People will be thrust into top positions for the first time. They will need the support of their leadership teams. They must earn the alignment and engagement of an employee base that is feeling very uncertain. They’ll have to demonstrate confidence in their convictions yet be quick to adjust when things are not working.
Over the past few months, we have lauded the heroic efforts of healthcare workers and first responders. Putting the economy back together will require equally heroic actions from corporate leaders, who will be tested like never before. Gregg Tate, in his series of LinkedIn posts, made clear that The Return will be far more difficult than our recent exit and lockdown. It will require transparency, flexibility, patience and, above all, humanity.
Leadership is often a lonely undertaking; it doesn’t have to be. I urge leaders to seek counsel from those who have lived through other crises, who are willing to share their scars and their wisdom.
In heroic literature, Arthur pulled a sword from a stone, fulfilling a prophesy, and was proclaimed king. Nobody thought he was ready for the role or up to the challenge. But he had Merlin as a mentor. And he had his executive leadership team at the Round Table. To the heroes who are stepping up when they are most needed, I offer this advice.
Find your Merlin and embrace your knights.
Executive Springboard President Steve Moss shares learning from years as an executive and a mentor.