The current generation of top managers suffers from an image problem. Wirecard CEO Markus Braun was recently arrested and Wirecard COO Jan Marsalek has been on the run since then (Economic Week 2020). The offence is the falsification of balance sheets. Ex-Schalke supervisory board chairman and meat entrepreneur Clemens Tönnies is also currently under suspicion of fraud with delivery notes and work contracts under poor hygiene conditions, which is said to have caused damage of 4 million euros. In this context, former Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel is also suspected of having saved Tönnies from a punishment at the time.

But these are not isolated cases. With Audi manager Ruppert Stadler, another top manager faces charges of fraud, indirect false reporting and criminal advertising (Handelsblatt 2020). Ex-Bertelsmann manager Thomas Middelhoff is also currently in prison for tax evasion and infidelity. After a court hearing in 2017, he jumped out of the window of the courthouse and tried to flee. Another example is Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn, who is said to have concealed more than 50 million dollars and was subsequently on the run until his arrest (Handelsblatt 2020).

When top managers feel untouchable

Such crimes can often only be explained by the fact that a feeling of inviolability has arguably aset among the top managers. However, the examples mentioned also show that there is no free pass for top managers. They, too, are bound by the laws and norms of society. How could it happen that the top managers mentioned are capable of committing crimes and, despite many advisers in court, appear hardly reflective and even jump out of windows? The reasons in this case are no longer money and power, but deep down in the character of the top managers.

Changing character over time

The majority of the top managers mentioned often come from a normal parental home and have been educated with different values. Over time, however, they have lost a sense of limits and the distinction between right and wrong in their own behaviour (Economic Week 2016). For example, VW paid out millions in bonuses to top managers after the diesel scandal and the dismissal of many employees, and Clemens Tönnies demanded compensation from the state after the Corona outbreak due to its own indebted hygiene conditions. It is a perception of its own: one can violate any kind of rules with impunity, just because one has risen to the very top of the corporate hierarchy and it is difficult to distinguish correctly and wrongly in an empathic way.

Top managers are exceptional talents

But where does this assumption come from? Top managers are often exceptional talents who are more powerful and assertive than other managers. They are people who are extremely fast in recording, structuring, analyzing and processing information and making decisive decisions. This shapes their self-image and behaviour. Even at the highest level, these exceptional talents often rely only on themselves. Top managers are already constantly advised by management consultants and coaches, but often the mindset of exceptional talents makes them resistant to coaching and change that does not come from them themselves.

Management makes you lonely

The CEO Snapshot Survey shows that nearly 60% of 1,000 managers surveyed admit to feeling lonely. Is power power in the organization and are these “lonely at the top”? According to the study, there are the following reasons:

  • foreclosure of top managers due to power struggles and intrigues,
  • the perception that top managers should be unapproachable,
  • middle managers shut down their own area,
  • Managers and employees are intimidated by the power and wealth of the top manager and
  • lack of sympathy due to certain characteristics of the top manager.

In particular, such loneliness caused by the organisation can also contribute to a significant change in character.

A new generation of managers scores with character

Top management needs character – a new generation of top managers puts the old grey man under pressure with charisma, audacity and cleverness.

In addition to the many negative headlines, a number of significantly younger managers and well-established top managers are making a number of positive headlines. These managers seem to score with a positive character and authenticity.

For example, the often casually dressed and very direct football coach Jürgen Klopp was voted Manager of the Year by Manager Magazin for “Management with Charisma, Chuzpe [Dreistigkeit] and Cleverness” (Manager Magazin 2019). This decision is in marked contrast to that of previous years and has sparked a controversial debate. Another example is ex-Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, who abolished the tie at Daimler and caused a real scandal in the top management floors of German Dax companies during a presentation with a T-shirt with the inscription ‘Do Epic Shit’ (see Wirtschaftswoche 2018).

Both managers are an anti-type to the old, grey-haired man with a tie and suit, breaking with the classic managerial image that has been in the minds since the 1980s. In this context, a new generation of managers with a special character, authenticity, openness, chutzpah and casual clothing seems to be emerging with young top managers from startups such as Daniel Kraus (Flixbus), Valentin Stalf (N26), Dominik Richter (HelloFresh) and Anna Alex (Outfittery).

A new generation of managers seems to be shedsing a positive light on top managers. Basically, the character of the aforementioned top managers seems to be an important factor in the public perception of success. The character of top managers must therefore be dealt with more intensively. But what exactly should the character of a top manager look like? In October 2020 I publish some interesting facts from a study here in the blog.

Image source: https://pixabay.com/de/illustrations/teamgeist-teamwork-euro-silhouette-207319/

Genderhinweis: Ich habe zur leichteren Lesbarkeit die männliche Form verwendet. Sofern keine explizite Unterscheidung getroffen wird, sind daher stets sowohl Frauen, Diverse als auch Männer sowie Menschen jeder Herkunft und Nation gemeint. Lesen Sie mehr dazu.

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Sources

CEO Snapshot Survey (2012). https://hbr.org/2012/02/its-time-to-acknowledge-ceo-lo

Handelsblatt (2020). Money gone, company gone, career gone. https://www.handelsblatt.com/unternehmen/management/management-geld-weg-firma-weg-karriere-weg-wie-es-fuer-topmanager-nach-der-haft-weitergeht/23751204.html

Manager Magazine (2019). Magic of the Motivator. https://www.manager-magazin.de/premium/juergen-klopp-fc-liverpool-managementskills-von-koenig-fussball-lernen-a-00000000-0002-0001-0000-000163470763

Economic Week (WiWo) (2016). When boards feel untouchable. https://blog.wiwo.de/management/2016/03/07/wenn-vorstaende-das-gefuehl-haben-unantastbar-zu-sein-kommentar-von-ulrich-goldschmidt/

Economic Week (WiWo) (2018). Zetsche, the failed cultural revolutionary. https://www.wiwo.de/my/unternehmen/auto/abtritt-des-automanagers-zetsche-der-gescheiterte-kulturrevolutionaer/23118104.html

Economic Week (WiWo) (2020). Marsalek is not the only top manager on the run. https://www.wiwo.de/erfolg/management/ex-wirecard-vorstand-marsalek-ist-nicht-der-einzige-topmanager-auf-der-flucht/25979652.html

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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