CEO Chronicles: Navigating your liferaft through corporate rapids

Welcome to CEO Chronicles – an anecdotal exploration of the corporate world, a collection of experiences (good and bad), a sharing of proven principles and perspectives, and finally, a forum for discussion where we can all share, confide and take comfort.

It has been a year since I retired after more than a decade as a CEO. In this year, which I envisaged I would spend teaching, I have learnt so much. I have met hundreds of professionals, young and old, stagnant and growing, happy and miserable. With each meeting, I learnt about their aspirations and frustrations, dreams and failed approaches, successes and flame-outs.

All professionals want to succeed, and to have our talents recognized. We want to keep growing and learning with our eye on the prize: that next promotion, a larger office, company car, the corporate credit card, entry into the C-suite. At the same time, we also want to be happy, find fulfillment and contribute value.

For some of us, sadly, these aspirations don’t materialize and the dream becomes a nightmare. There are so many stumbling blocks that we professionals have to grapple with on this journey, slowing, demotivating, and alienating us. And leading us inevitably to become cynical, depressed and detached.

In my experience, these stumbling blocks fall broadly into three categories – within ourselves, in our workplaces and relating to the macro-environment.

The first, within ourselves, deals with issues such as – stagnation, perceived and real; lack of a personal vision; inability to sense signals until they are too late; lack of meaning or fulfillment; feelings of disconnectedness, and so on.

The second, in the workplace, we face more extrinsic challenges – that bullying boss; the bad-mouthing colleague; customers with unreal expectations; a lack of recognition; the incessant pressure; being on the wrong side of nepotism, and more of such.

Finally, the broader environment throws up challenges relating to changing or slipping market conditions; underperforming against the competition; being far from the corridors of power; being mired in the wrong function, sector or industry; elusive financial independence; being a female professional unable to break through male bastions; the lack of a support network, and other systemic issues.

The good news is that there is a silver lining! I have learnt that these are only-too-similar situations and challenges, regardless of industry, company, country and position. I have been mentoring and guiding for the last 20+ years, and between my own experiences and those that I have listened to, I have come to realise that while each individual’s problems seem to be unique to them, these are actually minor variations on recurrent themes. While the symptoms may vary by person, company and industry, the root causes are surprisingly repetitive.

Even better, most of these problems have real solutions. The reason an individual professional may not have access to a solution for a specific problem could be that she is facing this situation for the first time, that she has no one to confide in or who could guide her, that she has recognised it too late, or that she finds it difficult to consult anyone without hurting her ego and self-confidence.

Take a classic case – an employee having to deal with an unreasonable boss. This situation is so common across the corporate world that it has become an aphorism: “Employees leave bosses, not companies!” However, most employees in this situation tend to struggle on their own, unable or unwilling to seek tried and tested solution approaches that could quickly relieve their misery.

Hence, the series ‘CEO Chronicles’. At different points in time, my mentees have asked me to write a ‘ready reckoner’ on career progression and management. In the past, I demurred, conscious of my own fallibility. The last year, however, has shown me that such an initiative may guide at least a few of you to deal with situations you may find yourselves in and lead you to your desired goals.

I am posting this here and on LinkedIn, because it is the social network that connects professionals from across the world. I am hoping that, in time, I will be joined by other practitioners and mentors who will share their knowledge and expertise, making this forum increasingly robust and useful.

Your feedback, commentary and suggestions are not just welcome, they are requested and will be deeply appreciated.

Venkatraman Sheshashayee

Venkatraman Sheshashayee (Shesh) is Managing Director of Radical Advice, a business transformation advisory based in Singapore. He has over 34 years of experience in manufacturing, shipping and offshore oil & gas. Shesh’s previous roles include CEO of Miclyn Express Offshore, CEO & ED of Jaya Holdings Limited and Managing Director of Greatship Global. In his new avatar, Shesh helps SMEs, start-ups and aspiring professionals achieve their potential.
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