“It’s good to be the King!”
Mel Books wrote this line in his film History of the World, Part I. One of the five roles he plays is that of Louis the XVI during the French Revolution. He speaks to the camera (AKA breaking the 4th wall) and says the line as a way to justify his shameless behavior. He uses the line in several of his subsequent films and in the Broadway production of The Producers.
Today you may have observed a trend that brings this line to mind. I sometimes refer to as ‘donning the purple royal.’ It is the behavior seen in organizations (everywhere and anywhere) when people ascend the ladder of success and appear to have instant amnesia, forgetting what it was like to work at the lower levels. Gradually, these folks become accustomed to ‘the better opportunities, standards, and surroundings’ that a more senior position affords them. They display a ‘let them eat cake’ attitude toward others who are below them on the organizational chart. Sometimes, this mind set extends to customers, clients, and vendors.
I see this happen in large and small ways:
- Talking about the wait staff as the wait staff serves them a meal.
- Demanding employees get to work during a snowstorm while sending emails from home.
- Spending a large amount on Executive Development (conferences, coaching, seminars) and a small amount on training, seminars, conferences and coaching for non C-suite folks.
- Providing bonuses and stock options to senior leaders while employees get a 1% increase.
- Taking the executive leadership to a tropical resort for the annual strategic retreat during layoffs.
While the large corner office with the terrific view and the comfy couch, the executive dining room, and the 3-martini lunch may have gone out of style, there are still plenty of ways to let others know that the senior level leaders deserve better than everyone else. The larger pay check isn’t enough to make the point. In fact, it’s often the springboard for this kind of behavior.
I’m not saying that these kinds of thing shouldn’t be enjoyed. What I am saying is that in organizational life, people watch their leaders closely. For better or worse, behavior sends a message and some leaders have a blind spot when it comes to understanding how things look.
Blind spots are those things that we don’t see that are absurdly obvious to others:
- You may see yourself as independent while others see the same behavior as not working with the team.
- You view outcomes as the most critical aspect of the job while being unaware of the impact your behavior has on others as you work to attain that goal.
Sometimes being successful doesn’t invite humility.
I’m not talking about becoming an ‘Undercover Boss.’ Pretending you are an employee to remind you how hard that job might be isn’t really my point – though it’s a point well made. Perhaps it’s good every now and then, to take off the cape and the crown, put down the scepter and go have lunch with the folks in the lunch room.
Even better —
- Invite them out to lunch to hear how things are going in their part of the organization.
- Give up the executive parking spot to others.
- Let a team use your office to meet in when you aren’t there.
- Consider having the executive retreat in the boardroom and investing those dollars in staff training.
- Launch an employee engagement initiative and get the employees’ input in focus groups.
These steps require some reflection in the executive suite but your customers, vendors, and clients may respond in surprising ways. Your employees will too. They are always watching, and notice more than you think.
It can be very good to be the King (or Queen). Is it also good to know the King (or Queen)?