Begging your pardon sir, but are you about to be sacked?
The rudest question you can ask a chief executive, aside I guess, from inquiring about the state of their marriage, is this: are you going to be fired?
You don’t have to be that blunt. My favoured device is something like: I promise I don’t wish this were so, but these do seem to be the sort of circumstances from which chief executives don’t recover…
Then I ask it again. And again. Until I get at least some sort of answer. (“Yes, probably” is good.)
Reactions to this question vary. Cool-as-a-cucumber characters like, say, Martin Gilbert, would make a joke of it. Laugh it off.
Others behave as if you just burped in their face at a dinner party.
It’s not that comfortable, whatever the reaction. I think it falls under the category of questions hacks feel is in their job description to ask.
My point is that the possibility of a CEO ousting occurs to hacks much sooner than it does to flaks, it seems to me.
Best to have some answers ready long before you think the question is likely to be asked.
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