How to Be a Soul-Sucking CEO

For those of you who have been following my work over the years, you might be thinking, “Garry has lost his mind. He’s telling us all how to do it wrong!”

You know that I stand for creating financially successful companies where their tribe members can come to work every day, knowing that their coaches support them in the work they do and the risks they take, and then go home to their families happy each night satisfied that they are investing their talents and time in a cause greater than themselves.

So why am I telling you how to be a soul-sucking CEO now?  Well, click here for the first part of this package – a Linked In article I’m publishing simultaneously with this blog piece. You’ll see where I’m going with this.

To My Linked In Readers  

Welcome to Part 2 of my Soul-Sucking CEO package. I expect that you’re here because you saw my offer for the handy checklist on Linked In. And I don’t disappoint! I deliver as promised.

Over the years I developed what I call the 10 Traits of Leadership, based on the winning behaviors that I’ve observed in my own company, WD-40 Company, and among the leaders I’ve admired around the world. But, as I stated in my Linked In piece, some CEOs are so clearly dead-set on creating toxic environments that they are manifesting shocking disengagement statistics on a global scale.

Since this is clearly what some leaders aspire to, I thought I’d help them out with that as well.  So here is my 10 Traits of Leadership checklist turned on its head. In future blog posts, I’ll turn it right-side-up again, and dive more deeply into how to be the engaging leader who wins in both business and workplace culture. But for now, let’s take a quick look into how to do it wrong.

Soul-sucking CEOs exclude their people from critical conversations and decisions. They know that no one can run their companies better than they can. So they make unilateral decisions about strategy, market positioning, new products. When the time comes to celebrate a success, they party only with their closest cliques. And when there’s a crushing failure, they take it out on the rank-and-file.

Soul-sucking CEOs are surrounded by servants whose job it is to wait on them hand and foot. It’s not easy to get to the role of CEO. It took a long time to get there. And they had to do their share of kissing, well, you know what. Now it’s their turn. They’ve paid their dues. They’ve earned their new role of corporate royalty. And now they expect abject respect. It’s only fair.

Soul-sucking CEOs stop learning (and they despise teaching). Learning is for losers. CEOs don’t achieve the top seat in an organization by being stupid, right? They got there by their smarts. So what more could they possibly know that will improve their performance going forward? The professors come to them for case studies of success. They don’t go to professors for additional knowledge and insights. As far as assuming the responsibility of being a teacher is concerned, what the heck is that all about? If their company’s staff isn’t already equipped to do the job, maybe it’s time to replace the recruiters and hiring managers. Anyone who wants to learn something new can do it on their own time. In the meantime, zero tolerance for on-the-job mistakes.

Soul-sucking CEOs don’t have to care how anyone else thinks or feels. Soul-sucking CEOs decide the mood and temperature of every room. It’s not up to the soul-sucking CEO to be tuned into the morale of the crowd. The crowd must take care of the morale of the CEO.

Soul-sucking CEOs don’t learn from experience. Why should they? They’ve already achieved the top spot. So they’re perfect. If anything goes wrong, it’s obviously someone else’s fault. Find that person, blame that person, hold the error against that person. Forever.

Soul-sucking CEOs expect their staff to accommodate their leaders’ emotional sensitivities, wounds, ego, preferences, narcissism, etc. The soul-sucking CEO must always be right. And when the soul-sucking CEO is wrong, the staff must make the correction diplomatically, behind the scenes. Do not upset the soul-sucking CEO.

Soul-sucking CEOs must never be challenged by opposing or additional ideas. See above.

Soul-sucking CEOs micromanage their staff, even if their input causes a delay in critical timing. Things must be perfect, and soul-sucking CEOs can’t trust their people to get it right on their own. Because their micro-management is so essential to the smooth running of their companies, when things go right, they happily will take the credit. When deadlines are missed, it’s not their fault.

Soul-sucking CEOs break their promises. There is no reason for soul-sucking CEOs to follow through on their commitments. If their people are consequently disappointed, that’s not the CEO’s problem. The CEO has already moved on to making other empty promises.

Soul-sucking CEOs manage their people by fear and dread-scenario thinking. Soul-sucking CEOs know that panic is the best motivator. Their people are afraid of missing sales goals, losing market share, losing their jobs, losing their houses, losing their health, losing their families. And soul-sucking CEOs are masters at leveraging that kind of energy to retain control over their organizations.

No, You’re Not Crazy

As I consider this list of soul-sucking CEO behaviors, it makes me sad to reflect on the fact that these are common in workplaces still today. Even though we all know that this kind of leadership is toxic, depleting and company destroying. We see the damage this kind of behavior causes over and over again as companies spectacularly flame out, and many of these kinds of leaders even end up having to pay their debts to society behind bars.

I also have to ask myself how it is that leaders are allowed to behave this way, even with the first soul-sucking action – whether it’s a lie, an emotional outburst, a broken promise, or some kind of Machiavellian mind game designed to test the loyalty of one direct report over another. These kinds of behaviors start out so small, so inconsequential, no one wants to speak up or out. But the intensity gradually builds up over time.

People become like the proverbial boiled frog. All over the world, millions of talented and otherwise high-value people trudge to work daily, with their hearts broken and their faith in themselves crushed into powder. And they wonder if they’re the ones who are crazy, and if somehow they have done something to deserve this experience. Or, if maybe, this is the way they should one day lead as they scratch and crawl their way up the career ladder themselves. What a loss to the world this becomes.

My mission in life is to help leaders find a better way. A way in which they create thriving companies, enlivened by dedicated, talented people who come to work every day with one mission in mind:  To make the world a better place for their customers and coworkers. And when they come home, their happiness and sense of fulfillment serves as an inspiring example to their children – who will one day grow up and experience their own satisfying work life. And serve as inspiring role models for generations to come.

That’s my mission and vision.  I hope you’ll join me.

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Stan Sewitch
February 6, 2018 9:11 pm

I can see the long-term impact across many organizations that you will have, far beyond the shining light of WD-40 Co. that you have made it.

Rick Schaltegger
Rick Schaltegger
February 7, 2018 5:58 pm

These 2 articles are probably the best summary I’ve seen on how (and how not) to be a great leader. Wonderful wisdom and insights. Very grateful you shared. Keep up the great work!

Barry N. Perkins
February 7, 2018 11:25 pm

Enjoyed your discussions on the “Soul Sucking CEO” and their traits.

While getting an early stage startup off the ground, I am keenly interested in creating particular culture. In this effort, I have been researching other companies values, and the resulting culture / behavior. Your perspectives from these posts aligns with my personal beliefs.

Would you be willing to share the values that you use at WD-40 with me, so I can learn, and leverage your experience?

Frank Honold
Frank Honold
November 6, 2018 2:43 pm

Did you ever get a reply? I’d be interested in the answer as well

noreen ferguson-hughes
noreen ferguson-hughes
February 8, 2018 12:53 pm

You Rock! Having been on the receiving end of two quite different Soul Sucking CEOS in the last 6 years – you have articulated my experience and the experience of so many, in quite spectacular accuracy.
That toxic – ego driven narcissistic control freak of a beast – makes me shiver.
As so many of us cannot just simply “walk away” how can people learn to cope and help collectively deal with such a person? I wonder – any insights would be very interesting.

March 1, 2018 7:50 pm

I’ve left two jobs due to being on the receiving end of such barbaric leadership as is described above I also suffered under a terrible coach when I was an athlete, which is another field in which dehumanizing leadership is still tolerated. It’s painful, disheartening, and demoralizing. Unfortunately, Soul-Sucking Leadership is still deeply entrenched in our culture. I love reading about and seeing a positive trend and push to implement leadership that is founded on humanism. Thank you so much for this article. I look forward to reading more.

Kathryn Hall
March 2, 2018 3:43 pm

Thank you for bringing attention to these patterns and to encouraging people to make happy, healthy choices for themselves. We all deserve nothing less.


[…] make his point in the most compelling manner, Ridge created a tongue-in-cheek How to Be a Soul-Sucking CEO checklist. Here’s a shortened version of […]

Maureen Farmer
September 26, 2019 12:07 pm

I can attest to this based on the thousands of executives I’ve worked with over the last 8+ years. Thank you for this insightful article, Garry!

Suryanarayanan Subramanian
Suryanarayanan Subramanian
January 21, 2020 3:01 am

Pretty much my mission too. Inspiring and reaffirming!! Thanks a ton

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