CEO Fail: Saint CEO

Photo credit: By Túrelio [CC-BY-SA-2.0-de (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: By Túrelio via Wikimedia Commons

In the summer of 1984 I was lucky enough to participate in a church youth group trip to Rome where Mother Theresa was scheduled speak to an assembly of all the youth groups from the U.S. At the time I was 18 and while I had certainly heard of Mother Theresa, I didn’t know that much about her. We crammed into a relatively small century old church for the event. I arrived early and as more people came in, I was continually pushed closer and closer to the front until I was in a pew next to the altar. After a while, a short, wrinkled figure appeared at the back of the church and began to shuffle towards the altar.

When she reached the podium and begin to speak, the hairs on my arms stood up. Her speech was soft with a thick accent, but there was a presence about her unlike anything I had ever experienced up to then or now. Forgive me, but the only analogy that I have found to describe it is the concept of “The Force” from Star Wars. It was as if Yoda had walked in the room, and you could physically feel the disturbance in “The Force.” Needless to say, I listened closely to every word as she presented a simple but powerful message of love thy neighbor as thyself. It was by far the most moving spiritual experience of my life, and I have always been thankful that I was lucky enough to be in that church on that day.

Now what does this spiritual story have to do with being an effective CEO? If I love all my employees, does that mean I can never fire anyone? This is what the Saint CEO may think, but it’s not in the best interest of all concerned. As every parent knows, while we love our kids we often act against their immediate wishes. That may mean giving them a swift kick in the rear when they need it or denying them something they desire.

The Saint CEO really values harmony over all other things and doesn’t want to deal with unpleasant conversations. Almost no CEO likes the idea of firing people, but it comes with the job. If you can’t force yourself to handle these situations in a timely manner, it will greatly decrease your credibility with the organization.

Are you a Saint CEO?

  1. Is there someone in your organization who the majority of people in the company think is incompetent?
  2. Do you avoid confronting key personnel issues hoping they will get better over time?
  3. Does your team have confidence that you will make the right decision in a timely manner no matter how personally painful it might be?


  1. To me the Saint CEO sees keeping people as the only way forward. They aren’t able to reconcile the idea of firing someone as being in the best interests of both the company and the employee. Here’s a post I wrote to help people see that being a “saint” and firing people aren’t mutually exclusive. “Retaining your Worst Employees is Selfish”

  2. Really liked your Mother Theresa story Joel. I recently was in a used bookstore in the boonies in Texas (somewhere between Glen Rose and Marble Falls) and found a photo book of a school/hospital that Mother Theresa had founded in India. The photographer was allowed unusual access to take candid shots that were so captivating, I sat down on the floor and read through the whole book before buying it. I have never done that before in my life. Mother Theresa had a presence in those photos (although usually the shortest and most unassuming of the subjects in the shot) that it caused me to add her to my bucket list of people I need to read more about. I think that is a great analogy to a great CEO, presence, without presumption or pride.

  3. Thanks for sharing this Jim! I agree and think there’s a whole other blog post to be written about the importance of humility in a CEO!



  1. When CEOs demonstrate cowardice under fire | The American CEO - […] little more credibility with his team, causing the very thing he sought to avoid. He was a classic Saint CEO…

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