Friday, March 23, 2007

The Horse-Holders

In another life, I served as the liaison for a couple of mayors to a community group. It was one of those added responsibilities that could be either a lot of fun or a complete pain but the experience's main virtue was it served as a crash course in juggling egos.

One incident in particular has stayed with me. The mayor held an annual awards luncheon at which various individuals and organizations that had done good things for the community in this particular area (I know I'm being a little cryptic here) were honored. One year, a Fortune 100 company was selected to win one of the awards. It had done great things and clearly deserved the honor.

Then things got strange. The company's CEO decided to fly out from New York to accept the award. That in itself would not have been a big deal - we call the name, the person walks up and gets the award, shakes hands with the mayor, gets a photo taken, and then goes back to chewing rubber chicken - but then the CEO's assistants started in with the demands. This was needed, the CEO liked that, didn't want the other, certain camera angles were important. You can imagine the routine. The list went on and on.

We did our best to accommodate but only within reason. After all, lines had to be drawn or the event would be transformed into a Mayor Genuflects Before CEO ceremony and I somehow sensed that might not be wise. Besides, I'd already encountered such characters when I was in the Army. We called them "horse-holders." (An amusing attitude because in some respects I had the same role.) Their generals were usually pretty decent fellows. The aides were the ones to watch.

Ever since then, I've occasionally wondered how executives can restrain the tendency of their inner circle to make excessive demands in the name of The Great Man or Woman. I've concluded that it's a topic that should be discussed, in Trumanesque language, more than once or the horse-holders can create a lot of enemies for the CEO.

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