Man about town

I play right into CEO’s mind games on Board


I do not like public speaking, but last week, I had no choice but to bite the bullet and speak in public. The CEO said I needed to take the board through some elements of what we are doing in terms of business development.

I was curious why the CEO was volunteering me given that he likes to “own the relationship with the board owing to governance issues”. He gave his reason as being “I am trying to grow you my managers, so you can get more visibility and interact more with the leaders”

Despite my misgivings, I decided to go ahead and prepare a presentation. To make matters worse, the CEO kept making all manner of changes saying we needed to focus on the “story we want to tell the board.” From where I sit, I wanted to tell the board that business is not looking good and we need to lower our expectations.

When I aired my views to the CEO he laughed out loud and said: “How can you be so naïve? You cannot tell the board such news . They will hang you out to dry.” Realising I was not going to win, I decided to tweak my presentation to align with what the boss wanted.

On the day of the presentation I walked into the session wearing my best blue shirt since Shiro once told me that blue is not a combative colour. I can never get over how old our board members are and sometimes wonder if they have any relevance to a modern company.

Most of them were heavily engrossed in reading the board pack-that voluminous document they read before board meetings.

I went straight into the session, but the chairman stopped me and said: “Young man can you introduce yourself.” I was taken aback by this since the programme in the board pack clearly indicated who I was and what I do. I tried to make light of it, but this question had messed up with my flow, which I had rehearsed over and over again.

After the initial hitch, I dived head on into my presentation. I had told the board members to hold the questions until the end, but clearly, they did not pay attention. They kept interrupting me asking all manner of questions and giving all kind of suggestions. I was not very pleased about it, but what could I do? I had to be patient and give them the time they needed.

One female board member who appeared young threw a spanner in the works and said: “I like your plans, they are very ambitious, but I am wondering if they are realistic. Your market assessment tells us that things are not looking good- so it is fair to assume that you register that much growth.”

Even before I could figure out what to say the CEO quickly responded and gave a long talk about how he had “assessed the numbers, looked at opportunities and was confident.” The same woman told the CEO: “ I think we should readjust the numbers so that we do not shock our shareholders- this is the best thing to do.”

That is when it hit me. The CEO did not want to be the one to give lower numbers so he had turned me into his errand boy to deliver the bad news. I even suspected that the comments by the female board member had been planned all along.

I felt used and a bit upset that I would have to rework the numbers and always be seen as the “manager with the wrong forecast.”

The next day the CEO came to my desk and said, “Josphat, good job! Now you know how to play the board like an orchestra.” Somehow his complements felt very hollow. I decided to focus on other things like how to go to Mombasa and clear (duty for) my car.