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Smooth or Deep?

While perusing the Sunday New York Times, an article jumped out at me for a quote it contained (and apparently, I was not the only one as a daily blog that tracks the grocery industry also thought it was noteworthy).  The quote was made by John Rowe, CEO of Exelon, a Chicago-based electric utility company):

“I know too many people who think that smooth is a substitute for deep.”

That thought is worth assessing as it relates to how businesses decide what to reward, what  it values, and what it encourages.  Are employees to be judged on the surface appearance of efforts or on the more complex ability to deliver results?  In the world of the boardroom Powerpoint presentations that incorporate all of the glitz and glamour that the technology can provide, are managers and executives willing to ask:

  1. How will the objective be achieved?
  2. What metrics or evaluative criteria will be used to judge success?
  3. Who is/will be responsible for managing?
  4. What resources will be needed?
  5. What potential dangers exist that may prevent success?

Or, will the presentation be judged on how well it is delivered, how creatively it is developed, and on the “edutainment” aspects (the education and entertainment value it offers to executives stifling yawns and grabbing a second doughnut during the presentations)?


 He explains that his view of his own leadership style includes: 

  1. Giving specific and detailed direction vs. ambiguous goals.
  2. Action is everything.  Rowe believes that remaining still is a strategic mistake.  His feeling is that, “it is better to be a moving turkey than a sitting duck.”
  3. Not being impatient to wait for the perfect (and nonexistent) level of information before making a decision.


Rowe believes that when it comes to selecting employees to join his company that the concept of responsibility is of paramount importance.  He suggests that employees think of their role in the same terms as the character, Ishmael in the Gregory Peck movie, Moby Dick.  When asked if he is “man enough to pitch a harpoon down a live whale’s throat and jump after it (a workplace situation that few of us ever confront in our office environments no matter how many ‘sharks’ we work with),” Rowe believes that Ishmael’s response represents the perfect reply that he wants to hear from his employees as well:

 ‘Well, I am, sir, if it be absolutely indispensable that I do so.’”

Do your values represent what you seek in employees?

In Rowe’s estimation, the ability to take responsibility for one’s actions (and results) is what differentiates an employee worth keeping from one that is not as valuable.  The employee who does not feel good about doing a less than optimal job is not one worth holding onto, according to Rowe.

So, when thinking about your company – what is it you value?  What would be the “what counts factors” that you would use to assess the appropriateness of an applicant?  How important is the sheepskin from the major university versus practical experience?   Are you unknowingly communicating the wrong values to your employees (and to think that employees don’t listen, watch, observe, and mimic the senior executives is to be unaware of the power that modeling behaviors have)?

Smooth or deep – take your pick.

David Zahn