Stumbling chief executives sometimes know that their number is up when shareholders criticise their performance in public. Have we just seen a version of this with Sir Gerry Robinson, the veteran manager, and Gordon Brown?
The former Granada boss has declared that the British prime minister is “showing all the signs of not being a capable leader” and is also bad at delegation. Sir Gerry’s barbs won particular attention because he has been a donor to Mr Brown’s party. That makes him a “shareholder” in my book.
But I’m nervous about the private sector giving the public sector lessons on leadership. Sir Gerry has made TV shows about how to reform the NHS but he hasn’t taken a permanent job there and attempted to do it on a sustained basis.
I suspect most corporate managers are too materialistic, individualistic and status-conscious to spend their most productive years working on a lower salary in the public sector, where the mood may well be less dynamic. Many are too impatient and too easily bored to tolerate the more bureaucratic corners of the state, let alone reform them.
Facing shareholder criticism, chief executives are wise to ask a quick question before walking the plank: how invested is this grumbling investor? Is it a long-termist or only interested in a quick turn?
When they give lectures on political leadership and other elements of public service, private-sector managers open themselves up to a similar question: are they sufficiently invested to be taken seriously?