Chatting up the Chief Exec


Which one of these gives me a trapdoor?

Picture the scene; it’s 8am and you’ve been a good girl, got out of bed super early and headed to the office to get a head start on the day. Whilst clutching your corrugated paper cup of over-priced but crucial coffee you wonder aimlessly through the front door of the civic centre only to bump into the Chief Executive waiting for the lift.

I know him a little so say hi and get the following response:

So Mrs WLLG, did you enjoy the recent staff away day?

(he uses my real name as this blog is anonymous and I doubt he even knows it exists; not really a blog type if you get my drift)

In a normal circumstance, I would have come up with a diplomatic but truthful answer starting with the positives and then if feeling really brave suggesting an area that could be improved; (or at least that’s what I tell myself).

But it’s 8am and that corrugated coffee is still sitting there scolding hot and undrunk in my hands so I say:

‘Well, I don’t think those are the sort of things you’re meant to enjoy’

‘Oh’, he says; ‘how do you mean?’

My coffee cup is screaming at me; ‘back track, BACK track’ but the coffee is still safely ensconced so I blunder on:

‘Well, the whole meeting was about cuts and savings so it’s never going to be cheery is it (doing well); plus, it’s hard to be strategic when all we have is a 15 minute round table discussion about strategic issues and then the rest is presentations (oops!)’

‘But the finance presentation was really good’ (I say desperately trying to win back a situation)

The Chief Exec isn’t the sort of guy who gets flustered and he says ‘thanks for the feedback’ and wishes me a good day.

I take a swig of coffee…

Now don’t get me wrong; I didn’t say anything out of turn as such; it’s just that the way I said it and the fact that I did it whilst standing in a lift at 8am in the morning when the Chief was probably just trying to be friendly meant that it was probably a little unwise.

That evening, when I had recovered, I dropped an e-mail to my WLLG colleagues and asked for any examples that they had of things they shouldn’t have said to their Chief Exec. I think it’s possible some of the following are made up:

Just before leaving, my Chief Exec came over to say goodbye and ask me where I was going and what I was looking forward to.  After telling them where, I subconsciously slipped in that I was glad to be moving to an organisation where staff tell me that they have real decisive, inspirational leadership.  I hadn’t meant it as a slight, but whatever then fell out of my mouth seemed to make things worse, so I reminded myself that when you are in a hole you should stop digging and promptly shut up.

I was lucky enough to go to one of those award ceremonies (back when they were a little more well attended) and the CEO came with us.  Inevitably the wine was flowing and after seeing what felt like hundreds of groups of officers go on the stage to receive their award except us, some of the party, including the CEO were a bit better for ware.  The disco came up and there was that cringe moment of having to dance with colleagues who you only spoke to in work and would never go to a night club to.  This wasn’t stopping the CEO who proceed to hug all of us and whispered to us (stage whisper of course), “You lot are the best officers in the Council, everyone else are just rubbish.”  Next morning nothing was ever said again about the incident.

Stuck for something to say whilst setting out a table for an upcoming meeting I turned to the Chief Exec (busy sorting his papers) and asked ‘How do you keep a straight face in all of those committee meetings? When anyone says ‘members’ meaning Councillors- it always makes me giggle. You?’ Not even the hint of a smile.

The CEO was on TV.  Met him the next day at the water cooler.  I mentioned I had seen him on TV.  He asked what I thought of it.  My answer: “Well, not sure about the outfit, your tie was speaking louder then you.  However, your answers were spot on.”  Turned out the tie was a gift from his wife.

While at the Directorate Christmas do I was at the bar.  The CEO was there to.  We started politely chattering.  Don’t know why but my class of whiskey and coke slipped from my hand, smashed and spilt its sticky contents over her rather nice, probably expensive shoes.  The smell of whiskey was quiet strong.  She turned to me, looking quiet irate, and said, “And I thought this was an alcohol free bar.”

At a conference a free bar was available.  I may have partaken a bit to many of these free drinks.  I saw the CEO of a neighbouring borough.  Went over and said, loud enough for all to hear, “So when are you getting rid off all the deadwood in your rubbish Council?”

If you have any more please drop them in the comments below…

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5 Comments on “Chatting up the Chief Exec”

  1. Roger White Says:

    Just as interesting (although not always so career limiting) is what CEOs say to members of staff – and how. There’s…

    “In these hard times…” – when you’ve just passed their new Merc with the personalised number plate in the management team car park

    The invasion of your personal body space in front of everyone in the corridor to speak quietly and confidentially, with just a hint of menace

    Inviting you to stay back after a meeting and volunteering , “Don’t you ever, EVER say that again about this council in public”

    When, as trade union rep, you raise a challenging issue about a member who’s being bullied – “You know, you could have a great career in this organisation”

    “She talks the talk but it’s a different story when it comes to working together” about the CEO of a neighbouring authority after a partnership meeting at which all was sweetness and light, at precisely the same time she is saying the same thing about him to one of their people.

    My apologies to the excellent CEOs I’ve worked for. It wasn’t you!

  2. Pete McClymont Says:

    I always take the stairs…

  3. Anon Says:

    When discussing the recent riots with the CX in the lift we got to talking about the riots in 81 that happened in similar areas. Probably not the best time to say that you don’t remember them as you were only 3 at the time… Especially not if your CX thinks he’s young and relatively down with the kids. Not a great career move to make him feel his age.

  4. Ed Hammond Says:

    I’m still reeling at the idea of being in the office at 8am.

  5. Jules Says:

    In my experince CX and Directors are only too pleased to have a normal conversation with someone who clearly isn’t brown-nosing. It can be lonely at the top. I didn’t know this until quite recently. On first meeting my new director 20 years ago, I ended up disagreeing with him seriously about a staffing issue in front of many more senior members of staff, who just looked on smugly. I thought I’d compleletly blown it. Move on 20 years, that Director retired some time ago, we end up being an item (happy ever after ending) and he told me that he had never forgotten that young gobby upstart causing a scene at the meeting.


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