Leaders: How to avoid an untimely exit

Flickr user Daniel R. Blume

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY With all the leadership train wrecks in the technology world these days, you've got to wonder if everyone's driving under the influence. CEOs, founders and board directors are crashing and burning all over the place.

HP's been a mess ever since what former director Tom Perkins calls "the worst board in the history of business" fired Mark Hurd over a sexless sex scandal. Then HP hired Leo Apothekerwithout most of the board even interviewing the guy. Apotheker nearly destroyed the company before he was canned after just 11 months. On goes the saga, now with Meg Whitman at the helm.

BlackBerry maker RIM finally sent its co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie packing after they drove the company off the highest cliff they could find, more or less giving up the smartphone market to Apple and Samsung without even a decent fight. Did you know that all eight of RIM's outside directors are bean counters? No kidding.

And now, Yahoo's 5-year long soap opera of board dysfunction and executive incompetence takes yet another turn with CEO Scott Thompson's Resumegate scandal. Now he's out, after less than four months. If only Yahoo's board had gotten rid of Jerry Yang that fast.

That's right, I forgot. It took Dan Loeb of Third Point Capital to figure out that Thompson wasn't what he appeared to be and get Yahoo to oust him and most of the board in perhaps the most stunning coup since John Sculley got Apple's board to dump Steve Jobs.

And while Best Buy, Sony, First Solar, Olympus and Nokia may not all be the geekiest of companies, they've still managed to send more than their fair share of CEOs and directors heading for the exits over all sorts of scandals and record losses.

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With all this destruction of careers, market share, and shareholder value going on, you'd think there'd be a leadership lesson or two in there somewhere for the million or so board directors all over the world. Sure enough, there is. So put your rubber stamps down for a minute and listen up. This is important. Here's how to avoid having to live with your own personal Yahoo or HP-like disaster.

Times are tough all over. Most of us are wearing more than a few hats and trying to keep all sorts of balls up in the air these days. You folks, on the other hand, only have one, that's right, one job to do: Hire a decent CEO. Yeah, I know, you've got to sit through all those board and committee meetings and act like you're paying attention.

None of that matters if you get job number one done right. Trust me on that.

So, unlike your fellow directors at HP and Yahoo, all you've really got to do to earn your pay is conduct a reasonably professional search, interview the candidates, and properly vet them so you know they've actually got the degrees they say they have and aren't criminals or animated Pixar characters.

Then just hold your multimillion-dollar baby's hand for a bit until he's figured out where the boardroom and the overhead projector are, and you're almost home free. Just one thing you've got to look out for. If the guy botches a major strategic deal -- like Jerry Yang did with Microsoft or Apotheker's PC division debacle -- don't wait around for him to do it again. Just give him the boot and try to do better next time.

Yes, I realize that's not as easy as it sounds, but I've got confidence in you. You can do this. Just focus and do it by the book. And yes, I also realize there are no teeth in this whole corporate governance thing. If you're forced to step down from one board, there are plenty of others to sign you up.

That may be true, but still, look at it this way. If you do the right thing, you'll score a boatload of Karma points. Plus you'll sleep better at night. Since none of us are getting any younger, those are actually pretty good incentives, if you ask me. So do the right thing. Make us all proud to be shareholders in your companies. If not, then we'll have to sic Dan Loeb on you.

Image courtesy Flickr user Daniel R. Blume