Power to the President

Powerful presidents are good for their companies. They are good for the customers, the investors, and yes, even for the employees. Powerful presidents make good decisions, influence events, and know where to take their companies to find success. Guilty feelings, shyness, political correctness, and fear of people’s responses can erode presidential power. But taken as a whole, nobody wants weakness in a president.

This power has many manifestations. Power is firing people who do not perform. Power is making decisions even when others object, including major changes of direction. Presidents are powerful when without apology they have the office reconfigured to the exact specifications that will make them effective and happy, including the color of the walls and the size of the chair. Power is moving the company close to the president’s house. Power is knowing the customers well and insisting that the company do what it takes to please customers. Power is in employees knowing they must be well prepared for every meeting with the president. Power is handing out rewards and punishments. Power is facing obstacles and overcoming them. Power is owning a big share of the company and getting rich when the company does well.

Why is it good for presidents to be powerful? Because the president is the personal embodiment of the company. The president’s power comes from and in turn increases the company’s power. And the company’s power is the source of rewards for investors, employees, and customers. The president’s power to lead the company generates the company’s power to change the world. In a startup company, or a company in a fast changing environment, this is crucial. Investors, employees, lenders, and customers all place their bet primarily on the president and her power to create the right direction and balance. If he is weak, life may be temporarily easier for some, but the bet will fail.

In a start up, the appeal and value of a management team job is inherently dependent on success of company, so it’s worth putting up with a powerful president’s demands if he takes the company to its goals. In a mature company, the job itself, as is, is probably the main consideration, so it’s less worth putting up with powerful president. This matches need of the two kinds of companies. Startups have to be nimble, decisive, urgent, following the personal vision and intuition of a leader. Mature companies in stable markets function more with consensus and make incremental changes. Any size company can be in either mode. Rate of change and outside demands are what determine which to be.

The goodness of presidential power extends to the personal. One president used his high pay to buy a motor home. He worried that his employees would think ill of him if they found out about the motor home. Later, after he sold his company, he regretted being secretive about the motor home and defensive about his pay and other outward marks that as president and owner he was different. He was only hiding the obvious and being uncomfortable in his role.

Another president also built and ran a successful company. He was relaxed and comfortable with the power he exercised and the rewards he received. His managers received generous pay and knew the president’s pay was very large—several times larger than their own. They admired him and were glad to work with him.

Employees do not resent powerful presidents. Presidents who let this destructive myth hold them back are missing the opportunity to do their jobs right. If they expand their power, and use that power to move the company where it needs to go, competent people will follow enthusiastically and the rewards will flow to all.