Department of Amplifications

#1. Re Generals. Many interpretations of my recent Post about the talent and pay of Generals have appeared in Comments. Hooray! Let me speak a bit more clearly about my implicit message that was perhaps too implicit:

I think 4-star generals have a much tougher job than the average CEO, in fact harder than most any CEO's job. They deal daily with the politics of the White House and 535 Members of Congress; and other services and defense contractors; and the other headstrong generals in their command—etc, etc, etc. (None of these people—from Private to President do what she or he is told upon being ordered to do so. CEOs' ability to give orders and expect them to be obeyed is, in my experience, higher than that of the average general.) (And Congress treats generals like fans do football coaches—every Congressperson is a military expert, in his or her own mind, who knows the 4-star general's business better than the general.)

On a daily basis, 4-star generals must oversee issues of readiness that affect the lives or deaths of thousands or tens of thousands of soldiers—not to mention the safety and very future of the United States of America. (Sorry, it ain't the same when P&G boss A.G. Lafley is considering whether or not to approve a color change—heaven forbid—in the Tide box.) Four-star generals also may have to make quick decisions that could lead to the life or death of thousands of soldiers; and in response to an act of WMD terrorism, perhaps hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Despite these incredible challenges, we get, in my experience, with amazing consistency, enormously talented and thoughtful people holding these top military jobs. That is to say that the "supply" of exceptionally talented people in these positions of incredible power and significance is not dependent on the amount they are paid. In private CEO land, we are led to believe that only bozos would be leading companies if we were unwilling to fork over immense sums of money; I think that's mostly ego as one boss compares his pay packet to his 499 Fortune 500 peers'. I likewise take delight in the relatively low ratio of top boss to corporal pay in the military—seems to work for them.

I am a vociferous champion of the Laws of Market Forces. And no particular enemy of high CEO pay. On the other hand, I think it is a lot less related to "supply and demand for extraordinary talent" than these corporate chieftains would admit. (Please feel free to discount all this—remember I am Commander in Chief of the cadre of thinkers who believe that "luck is the last 99%" in the making of great leaders—or management gurus; and ego and luck are the "99.9% factor" in the eclipse of said "great men"—usually men, of course.)

#2. Turkeys. My emphasis was on the word per se—and the implied valuation of one's fellows. Of course there are people who are misfits from the start who evaded the selection process. And of course there are those who cannot grow with the job. Etc. Etc. And etc. But I object—passionately—to the labeling of any one other than the likes of terrorists or serial murderers as "turkeys." I don't mean to play the "religion card"—I'm not very formally religious—but I am Jeffersonian in my belief that "all men are created equal" (while fully acknowledging the "slave oversight" and the "women oversight"). Thence, calling a total misfit of an employee a "turkey" is offensive and inexcusable to me—and revelatory of the speaker.

Tom Peters posted this on December 28, 2006, in Leadership.
Bookmark and Share