The act of breaking bread often brings candor. The man sitting across from me is someone I met years ago. I thought of him when I was talking with another business owner who has an open position. I guess you can say I am a business matchmaker of sorts when it makes sense. We decide to catch up over lunch.

After learning about what we both have done for the last several years, he offers to make some introductions into his company. I do appreciate a good referral and have built a strong practice on it. Part of my approach is to screen who I work with because there are just some people you can not help. Case in point.

He begins to describe the CEO. He runs multiple businesses. He does not live here and flies in on his Lear Jet. He stays at the most expensive hotel in the town. He shows up in his $1500 suits. His town hall meetings consist of telling the employees about the adventures of the executive staff who spend freely and make nice bonuses.

The company is expanding operations overseas and continues to squeeze itself locally. The employees are denied salary increases and face layoffs. Yet, this is a CEO who has his new Mercedes SUV delivered in the parking lot on the day people are leaving with their pink slip. For some reason, he does not relate well with the lower levels of the organization.

So I ask, “Who is in charge when he is gone?”istock_000001744145xsmall

He leans back in his chair and responds, “No one. I can’t think of anyone who is in charge. The CEO is always accessible by phone and that’s how the company is run. He makes all the decisions.”

My only comment to him: Your CEO is insensitive, and I will not work with him.

Insensitivity is not limited to CEO’s. It is a derailment trait in many employees aspiring to higher  management roles. What Makes Great Leaders, A Hay Executive Briefing, summarizes in Figure 6, that approximately 50% of high potential employees derail due to insensitivity. In fact, the data shows that lack of technical skills is rarely the culprit, more often it is the result of poor strategic communication and relationship management skills.

Working with individuals earlier in their career increases the odds for success. By the time someone has climbed to the CEO level, it usually takes a significant event for them to believe there is a need to change their behavior. Without that “ah ha moment” as I call it, this kind of work is thankless.