One day I accompanied my daughter to one of her gymnastics competitions. I sat next to the father of a teammate and friend of my daughter. He was dressed in a sweatshirt and sweatpants. I introduced myself and we started talking. At some point, I asked him where he worked, and he told me he worked at Alliance Data, a $6.4 billion public company in Plano, Texas. I then asked what was his role in the company and he responded: "I'm the company's chief cheerleader." I immediately figured he was the CEO. He was.
Another day I sat for an executive meeting with the CEO of another public company. I witnessed how he berated his top executive team, telling them how much they disappointed him, and that they "just don't get it." When I commented on how demotivating this must have been for them, he responded: "I'm their CEO, not their goddamn cheerleader."
Oddly enough, they both became CEOs of their respective companies within 6 months of each other, in the late 1990s.
Ed Heffernan led Alliance Data to become a $6.4 billion company with 15,000 employees worldwide, which won the "Top 100 Places to Work" award in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex 5 times, the last one in 2015. The company's share price climbed from $14 per share when he became CEO to more than $250 at the end of 2015.
The other CEO took his company, also public, from a small, 200-employee company, also at approximately $14 per share all the way to its bankruptcy in 2015.
Not too many words can separate the best CEOs from the worst ones. "Cheerleader" is one of them. A CEO who believes that his or her role is that of a cheerleader, focuses on developing people, letting them fail, and giving them all the credit when they succeed. A CEO who does not believe that cheerleading is included in his job description will berate employees and demotivate them when they fail.