My colleagues and I spend an awful lot of time in other people’s companies. We often only have a few hours with these companies, as we work with them at their conventions and conferences. These are not “typical” moments in the lives of most companies, but they are intriguing to me.
One of the most amazing things is how easily you can work out the personality of the CEO from the people in the company and how they respond to you. And vice versa – if you happen to have met the CEO, you can predict how your session at the conference will go based just on his/her personality (the correlation seems much higher to me when the CEO is a male).

If the CEO is arrogant, egotistical and self-obsessed, this is how the company will be. We often have a tough time in these companies – with arrogant audiences who take themselves way too seriously.
If the CEO thinks he is open and has an honest team around him, but to every outsider its clear that the CEO is surrounded by “yes men” and brown nosers, then you get very false reactions from the audience. The most common is that you get everyone trying to anticipate how the CEO will react, and then reacting that same way. So you either get stony silence, or raucous laughter, but never a mixture of both. It can actually be quite funny when it happens.
If the CEO is a tough task master, then you get a humourless audience.
If the CEO is a learner leader (why do we think that when we become leaders, we must take the “L” off our backs, and know everything and get everything right?), then you get an audience that is prepared to listen and evaluate what you say.
OK, its a generalisation, but I’ve seen it often enough to know there’s some truth in it. Ultimately, the CEO shapes the company, not just by corporate directives and organisational design, but also by sheer force of personality and character. I’m assuming this runs deeper than just what reaction an audience gives you at a conference. I wonder if its possible for a company to be rotten (e.g. Enron, Worldcom, or more recently KPMG) if the CEO is not also at least open to rottenness?

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