Blog: The Fable of Paphoo and Fhekoo


The Fable of Paphoo and Fhekoo

Will a collaborative approach work when things are going south? Is it time for solid dictatorship to turn things around?
The Fable of Paphoo and Fhekoo

Once upon a time a giant organization lost its way. Floundering in a self-made morass of sluggish performance, legal tangles, people troubles…the aging CEO has gone into a shell. Paphoo and Fhekoo (not their real names) make a pitch for the top job. You and I have to select…


Paphoo is young, fresh-faced and perceived to be easily influenced (hence the moniker). He has studied abroad and comes from a very recognizable vintage. Naturally, Paphoo’s career started high up in the hierarchy. His silver-spooned background automatically accords him the support of a powerful clique of aging leaders. Doors simply open for him. However, he lacks ‘hands-on’ experience and his business understanding is basic. He leans heavily on his advisors for…well, everything. What makes Paphoo a contender? His powerful pedigree and his youth.

Fhekoo is a hardened veteran; successful, albeit only within his own business. He is demanding, gets his way using aggression, power and the my-way-or-highway leadership style. Fhekoo’s forward outlook wins him the support of influential investor groups desperately seeking a change. Slick PR and creative statistics (hence the moniker) overstate his persona. Fhekoo’s arrogance (aka attitude) completely overshadows his humble education and background. Starting from the bottom of the heap, he smartly worked his way up the ladder. His business understanding is sound, but outside his own unit, he’s virtually untested. Fhekoo doesn’t wait for others to open doors for him. He opens them himself, often breaking walls, creating new doors, if he thinks necessary. What makes Fhekoo a contender? His result orientation, success models and personal drive.

Current scenario

Paphoo’s advisors influence every decision to the extent that they end up making them for him. It’s happened before. Paphoo’s team is satisfied but not engaged. Before making a move, Paphoo has to check-back. But he does break free, flexes some muscle…rarely. Decision-making is slow and frustrating. Paphoo is in sync with the current organizational DNA – and its outgoing CEO.

Fhekoo brazenly steps over his mentors if they disagree with him. It’s happened before. He mercilessly criticizes the current leadership. Fhekoo’s team is always on overdrive, sometimes breaking-down from ‘performance fatigue’ – slaves have short lives. Fhekoo’s blistering pace and dictatorship, to the point of megalomania, keeps everyone at their subservient best. Ghosts of disasters past haunt both. They’re just refusing to stay buried. And oh, those pesky integrity issues, why won’t they go away! Now for some crystal-ball gazing!

Two future scenarios

Paphoo as CEO: Paphoo tries breaking free from the same geriatric influence that supported his elevation. Legacy leaders hate change. So they indulge him, then vehemently oppose him. Paphoo Version 2.0 exhausts precious bandwidth massaging egos of redundant philosophers who’ve got one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel! Meanwhile, competition is walking all over the organization! Knee-jerk, expensive, people decisions happen. High performers are squeezed to subsidize the growing masses of underachievers – now demanding free hand-outs. Shareholders weep. Paphoo-cracy rules: everyone runs their own private strategy. Paphoo gapes clueless as mayhem prevails…

Fhekoo as CEO: Fhekoo blasts the age-old stranglehold from his first 100-day plan itself! He attracts new investment and rebuilds the crumbling infrastructure. Any detractors – fair or foul – get ruthlessly removed. He builds edifices to his heroes – surrogates of his own power. Aggressive posturing keeps competition guessing. Decision-making becomes centralized. People are reduced to abject doers. Compliance with the party-line becomes a significant measure of performance. Fhekoo’s is the only majority voice – no one else’s matters. High performers leave, seeking better conditions outside. The business recovers…optically. Fires of dissent burn everywhere…

Two depressing scenarios! Family name, personal aggression and ‘creative’ PR play small, often negative, roles in the quest for the Corner Office. Winning that spot demands a high degree of fundamental competence, demonstrated competencies (there’s a difference!) and strong leadership styles that include:

Visionary: Set clear strategies – roadmaps for progress.

Directive: Fix redundant, fractured processes and replace them with the latest. Eradicate the creep that pushes deadlines, hinders decision-making and resists change.

Collaborative: Leverage the expertise and efficiencies of other progressive leaders and alliance partners. Early buy-in prevents future surprises (shocks?).

Pacesetting: Drive implementation. Periodically prodding and pushing, rewarding and punishing.

The good news? Leadership styles can be learned and improved upon at any stage in life! Situational leadership already has a successful track record, irrespective of the size and operating environment of the organization. It just needs WILL. Is that too far-fetched? Hardly! Doable? Certainly! Now, if only someone would identify the realism of our fable in a larger context. Paphoo, Fhekoo, selectors…is anyone listening?

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Topics: Leadership

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