Executive disengagement is the custom by which lower level employees assume that
executives are best left uninformed of certain decisions and actions of employees, or the
assumption that executives can not be legally expected to have complete control over their
A USA Today article described an emerging problem of executive
disengagement. According to a Gallup poll, a third or more of top executives find
themselves mentally and emotionally disengaged from their work and the people in their
organizations. They exhibit signs of disinterest in what they do, at least partly because
they arent necessarily consulted on decisions made by those they direct. The article
also pointed out that many at the top of organizations get little positive feedback (other
than financial) for their accomplishments.
Countering CEO Disengagement in the Age of TARP - businessweek.com
The signs of CEO disengagement are fairly easy to identify, says Neil Jacobs, head of
Northeast America for YSC, a global business psychology consulting firm in New York.
"Body language tells you what mode your CEO is in," says Jacobs. "Look at
posture and whether the CEO sounds defeated in meetings." Indeed, CEOs who seem
uncharacteristically scared or oversensitive to criticism may be heading for a
disengagement crisis. "People who manage to graduate to CEO level are pretty
thick-skinned," says Roy Cohen, a career counselor and executive coach in Manhattan.
"They tend to be confident. They believe in themselves and that they deserve to be in
the CEO role. If they don't act that way, there's been a breakdown."
You may notice the CEO seems psychologically disconnected as a team member. When CEOs
become disengaged, "the shift of their leadership starts to move to leading more for
themselves than for the organization," says Jacobs. "Engaged CEOs will use the
word 'we' a lot. They show honesty. They'll say, 'I'm the head of this organization, and
we're going to get through this.'"
Besides being lonely at the top, it can be 'disengaging' as well Like rank and
file, CEOs can quit caring about their jobs Bored, burned-out executives can undermine an
By Del Jones, USA TODAY
Gallup Organization uses a dozen questions called the Q12 to predict what it has coined
employee engagement, questions about such statements as "I know what is expected of
me at work," and "I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day."
In the past three years, 332 companies have paid Gallup to administer the Q12 test to 4.5
million workers. Among the 4.5 million were 17,406 executives at vice president and above,
or one in 260. While it may make sense that lower-ranking workers are less likely to be
engaged, many high-ranking executives are in the same camp, says Jim Harter, Gallup's Q12
chief scientist. For example, 49% of top executives are engaged, vs. 43% of managers and
32% of non-managers. Striking is that 9% of top executives, nearly one in 10, are actively
disengaged. These executives are beyond the point of even going through the motions. In a
worst-case scenario, they represent a threat to commit sabotage or otherwise harm the
company in such ways as making disparaging remarks about products and services, maybe
while skipping work for a round of golf.
"You have no idea how dysfunctional most executive teams are," says Marcus
Buckingham, who worked 17 years at Gallup and led its effort to identify what makes great
It can undermine the entire company, because companies with disengaged executives are
likely to have disengaged employees in general, what Harter calls a "cascading
Magnus Nicolin, the 48-year-old CEO of Esselte, also leans in that direction. Not long
ago, he was among the ranks of the executive disengaged and believes that a CEO and other
top executives can check out, although he says it would also require an inattentive board
of directors for a company to unravel.
"It's pretty scary," says Nicolin, who is in charge of the manufacturer of
labelmakers, file folders and 30,000 other office products, with $1.2 billion in annual
sales and 6,000 employees.
In 2001, when Nicolin was executive vice president of global marketing, he says he felt
detached from Esselte's strategy. A key predictor of disengagement is a feeling that your
opinions don't count, and Nicolin remembers believing in a different core strategy for the
company, a strategy that was not shared by the CEO.