You're a CEO, baby!
(FORTUNE Magazine) – I was having some crispy duck and cold sesame noodles the other night when my eye fell on the adjacent table, where a couple was attending to one of those cute babies that appear on cue to harsh my mellow in airplanes, restaurants, and movie theaters. This baby was doing all the things that babies do, very sweetly, its itsy-bitsy clothing in apple-pie order down to micro-mini work boots. Its parents attended it much as the baby Jesus must have been celebrated by the three wise men from the East.
As I watched the baby do its baby thing, I got one of those electric shocks of recognition that accompany great epiphanies. This baby, fresh, incoherent, and flush with protean narcissism, was exactly like a CEO. The way it was acting, the way its nervous, doting caretakers related to it and it to them--this was pure CEO in its most fundamental, primal form. The exercise of power by a fully grown adult, I now believe, causes the individual to regress to an infantile state previously enjoyed only in the blessed days before coherent speech, mobility, and toilet training.
Crazy, you say? A comic conceit? I think not. Here are ten ways that a baby is like a chief executive officer. Tell me where I've got it wrong.
1. The baby is the center of its universe. All eyes are on Baby as it babbles and burbles and produces bubbles from various orifices. When the baby turns to the left, there's Mommy, cooing and smiling and sucking up! When the baby turns to the right, there's Daddy, mussing up its tiny head! This attention convinces the baby that it is the sun around which the cosmos revolves--a feeling shared by all chief executives, particularly those successful enough to be called moguls.
2. The baby speaks nonsense, but nobody seems to notice. The baby in the Chinese restaurant delivered goos, gahs, and bleh-bleh-blehs, and each was greeted with cries of delight. Anyone who has attended a staff meeting has witnessed this reaction to an executive utterance.
3. The baby has a short attention span and must be entertained constantly. The baby in the Chinese restaurant was handed six different toys before the egg rolls came. Each was played with for a scant wafer of time, then discarded. Have you noticed how nobody goes into the CEO's office without a list, a display, a bar chart, a cruller?
4. Those who serve the baby must be attentive to its moods, which change radically from moment to moment. The rattle or the free digital gizmo wears thin, and dark clouds descend on Baby's brow. Baby is going to cry. Uh-oh. Angry Baby is noisy. Angry Baby is mean. Most corporate wazirs exist not to perform a specific function but to avoid Angry Baby.
5. Everything is planned around the comfort and schedule of the baby. The problem is, Baby doesn't sleep a lot. It's up at 3 A.M. and in gear by 6, and expects you to do the same. Sure, it occasionally crashes at odd hours, disappearing into its crib like a crab into its shell, and during that hallowed time, you're washing dishes, reconnecting with the adult world. Then, bam, just at the hour you're ready for a cocktail and a DVD, here comes Baby with the phone calls and the BlackBerry messages.
6. The baby is conveyed everywhere. Chinese Restaurant Baby was picked up from a plush Prego and lovingly placed in a chair. After dinner it was returned to its limo. Shoe-to-floor time: zero. I've known CEOs with footwear whose soles had never trod on pavement or turf--nothing but carpeting--ten-year-old shoes that gleamed like a newly oiled baseball glove.
7. The baby has special food made for it because it can't really digest the stuff that other people eat. It isn't so much what Baby likes that's important, it's the idea that when Baby needs to eat, the right food must be present. And at the end of the day, a bottle to suck on.
8. The baby is bored by grownups, but if there is another baby in the room it perks up. After dinner that night the baby was put in its wee limo and rolled in state toward the door. On the way it came face to face with another tiny nabob, and for the first time it ceased to be just a little baby. Suddenly it was a proto-human trying to suss out a peer, just like the real ones do at Davos and Sun Valley.
9. When the baby makes a mess, other people have to clean it up. Do I have to spell this one out?
10. Babies have weird hair. It can be tamed with gel and loving care if the baby has to go on Wall Street Week, but otherwise you don't want to know about it.
Obviously we're just at the beginning of this inquiry, which will bear further study. I wish I had more time for you right now, but I just heard a rustle down the hall. I know what that means.
It's ... Baby!
STANLEY BING's new book, Sun Tzu Was a Sissy: Conquer Your Enemies, Promote Your Friends, and Wage the REAL Art of War (HarperBusiness), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at email@example.com.