The Unconventional CEO – Polish your brinkmanship skills

The Unconventional CEO

Chapter 7– Combat is the last solution, after diplomacy has failed. At some point you will make a stand, and if you do, it needs to be defended. Your skill at brinkmanship determines the extent to which you can defend your stance, and at what cost you are willing to do so.

The art of diplomacy is often and widely disregarded at executive level. Often performance alone is touted as the true worth of the CEO. Business is not a one-dimensional world.

So there are a myriad other traps to negotiate, most of them hidden, and they may seem unfair to the outside observer.

If you want to beat a dog, any stick will do. When the Board wants to stick it to you, any excuse will do. The confrontation is usually yours for the losing if your diplomatic skills are not sharp. So, what should you do?

You would have initiated private meetings with individual Board members, to bounce your new ideas off their accumulated wisdom. You would have aired frustrations that they could help alleviate. You will have expressed your thanks for their support in past Board meetings. You will have shared private insights, understood the interrelationships without asking and will have assumed that you’re the Patsy for their games. Of course they have no secrets from each other. They deal in information and opinions.

You will have acted wisely. Board members can be fired only for dissent from those who selected them and then voted them on the Board in the first place. You want to get the message across that you understand their concerns and are pursuing their agenda as well as yours.  As the Action Man.

There will be times when a sudden line in the sand will be drawn, and your choice to concede or confront will be tested, sometimes for real. A bullet that establishes a base trajectory – what is euphemistically called a sighter – may be fired in your direction. This might be to test your resolve and your skills in handling conflict.

In much the same way, you may recall that an unexpected recruitment call came just as you were setting in. The caller offered you double your new salary. You batted that away nicely, stating for the record how extremely dedicated you were and how determined to see through the current challenge. ”Thank you. Please don’t bother to call again.” You passed that test. If you didn’t, the knives would already have been out for you.

You have a single opportunity to set the bar on brinkmanship. How high do you value the good of the company, and especially its shareholders, over your relationship with the Board? You need to go to the extreme, based on principle. You need to stare down the lion and his mock charge. When the real trouble comes, the Board will have a measure of just how big the fight will have to be to get the stick to land on the dog. Good luck.


The Unconventional CEO offers succinct, compelling advice from one successful CEO Mario Pretorius, to you The Cape Messenger reader.

The book is also available to purchase in full from the Amazon store.

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