“Write 3 Letters” You Are Not that Good

Well you are that good, but let’s come back to that.  First a joke:

A new CEO was hired to replace an outgoing CEO.  The outgoing CEO met with the incoming CEO for an exit interview.  During the discussion, the departing CEO stated he had placed 3 very important letters in his drawer just as his predecessor had done for him.  He explained that the new CEO would find opening the letters in order most useful when a serious event took place.  He also stated the letters left for him had really helped him over his tenure.

Several months passed before a major event came up.  The new CEO now remembered the letters and noticed they were numbered 1, 2, and 3. The former CEO had instructed they be opened in order for maximal benefit.  The new CEO opened letter #1 and the paper inside had the words “blame it on your predecessor.”  The new CEO did as the letter stated and amazingly he was able to avert serious problems and keep his job.

Several months passed before the next serious event took place.  This one was growing in magnitude and things were starting to get ugly at the company.  There were even calls for the CEO to step down.  In desperation, the CEO opened the drawer and pulled out letter #2.  With great fear he, opened it carefully to read the word “reorganize.”  He followed the instructions and just as before he was saved. The whole company quieted down and went back to business as usual.

After about a year, a third serious event took place and it was much worse than the rest.  The CEO knew how to get out of the mess because he had a third letter left to open.  With a smile he reached for the letter #3 and opened it to read “write 3 letters.”

As you can tell from late night TV, comics like to make jokes about real life situations.  Almost always some real fact triggered the comic routine.  In some respects, the events above strike home for most managers. They have seen something similar in their organizations.  The point being that as a senior manager or CEO in a startup or even a big company, you know that sooner or later you will get tapped on the shoulder to leave.  It may be that you screwed up big time, but his is not always the case.  The company may be transitioning from one stage of growth to another and the Board of Directors feels a different skill set would be better in the company.  Many CEOs I have spoken to see trends for replacement over a 5 year period.  Some stay much longer, some shorter, but no one stays forever.  It is hard to not take these events personally, but you can’t; it’s business.

A Navy Captain once told me a story of his retirement ceremony from a hospital in Connecticut. He worked as a civilian and was chief of surgery for many years. He was leaving the hospital to return to active duty in the Navy. At his retirement ceremony he was given a letter describing how much he would be missed. He provided me a similar letter on leaving the government. In short the letter described how much the organization would miss the individual leaving. The whole thing can be summarized by the following: “If you put your arm into a tub of water and pull it out the hole left in the water shows how much you will be missed.” Essentially with any vacuum, the hole gets filled by the surroundings.

So what is the point of this article? You really are that good! It is just that there is so much diversity of thought and talent; others may feel better by having someone else with a different skill set. Sometimes it is not your call to leave, but do not take it personal.

About the Author – Taffy Williams

Taffy Williams

CEO of Colonial Technology Development Co. Chairman of a nonprofit affiliated with the Amer. Nutritional Soc. Previously he served as CEO of 2 biotech companies. He founded InKine Pharmaceutical Co. He was CEO and Chairman of Panax. He has raised over  $100 MM. In addition to executive skills, growing companies and business development, he is the author of patents, invention registration, and has applications pending. He has been the recipient of various awards. Dr. Williams has more than 20 years progressively responsible and diverse business and scientific experience in corporate management, research, project management, financing, and organization building. He holds a BS in chemistry from the Univ. of Notre Dame, a Ph.D. in Biochem from Univ. of South Carolina and has undergone a Postdoctoral training at the Univ. of South Carolina and the Univ. of Michigan.

(This article was originally published by Taffy Williams on his Startup blog. We are thankful to him for allowing it to be shared here.)

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