RegulationCorporate GovernanceOn the money

On the money

Humility is not a common characteristic among chief executives

Their ingredients for success may be slightly more exalted than those once
ascribed to journalists by one of our number Nick Tomalin – ‘a rat like cunning,
a plausible manner and an elementary facility with words’ – but the Darwinian
battle many chief execs have endured in order to get to the top does tend to
eliminate their more attractive features.

We should be grateful, therefore, to Rob Holden, the chief executive of
London & Continental Railways, the company building the final stages of the
high speed Channel Tunnel rail link, for telling the Financial Times
that ‘what I have learned in my business career is uncertainty is the biggest
issue management ever has to deal with’.

Most chiefs have an ego of such size that they won’t admit to being uncertain
about anything, especially when they have little idea of what’s going on.

Partly, of course, this is a function of leadership that is arguably the most
important skill because staff want a leader who is decisive and sure about where
he or she is going, what should be done and who should be doing it. Dithering
and indecision saps morale fast.

But it is also an effort to conceal their sense of insecurity – a
characteristic of aggressively ambitious people – which makes them strive to
appear to be always on top of everything.

I have often wondered whether the refusal to acknowledge the fog of
uncertainty in boardrooms, or to admit that decisions are taken on the basis of
incomplete information, accounted for the lack of acceptance of the OFR.

The value in this statement would have come from its being candid about the
risks facing the business. But as long as admitting uncertainty is seen as a
weakness it could never have lived up to its promise.

Anthony Hilton is finance editor of the Evening Standard

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