The Tale of the Three Envelopes | Stewart Leadership

The Tale of the Three Envelopes

 

On the first day of his new job, the new CEO enters the lobby of his new employer. He’s excited and ready to get started. The company has brought him in as a change-maker – someone who can steer the ship in the right direction.

As he makes his way in the door, he is greeted by this other person. She’s carrying a box of what looks like personal belongings, but instead of steering toward the door, she makes her way over to him. She reaches into the box and hands him three envelopes.

“Here, you might need these sometime,” she says, pressing them into his hand. She turns, and makes her way out the door without providing an explanation for the envelopes or even offering her name.

The new CEO, confused and distracted by this encounter, thinks to himself, “well that was really weird,” but he stuffs the envelopes into his jacket pocket as he is greeted by the office admin. As he is being shown to his new office he asks, “By the way, who was that woman in the lobby?”

“Oh, that was the old CEO,” shrugged the admin.

The new CEO is more confused than ever, but the demands of the first day of a challenging assignment soon overwhelm him and he forgets about the strange encounter until later that day. Sitting in his office, going through his stuff, he feels the three envelopes in his pocket. He pulls them out to take a look, but just as he begins to open the first one, a new meeting begins and he is pulled away. He shoves the envelopes in a desk drawer and promptly forgets about them.

Months go by. Things aren’t going very well.

It’s somewhere around month three or month four, and he is sitting in his office around 10 o’clock at night by himself.

“What am I gonna do?” he thinks.

Then he remembers the envelopes. The mysterious envelopes from the old CEO. What were those all about anyway. He digs into his desk drawer and pulls them out. He opens the first one, helpfully labeled, “Envelope #1.”

Inside there is a single sheet of paper with the words, “Blame the old CEO.”

“That’s it!” he proclaims out loud. Of course, everything that has been going wrong is because of the old leadership. Previous decisions, that he had no part in making, have led to this outcome.

So in the subsequent days he gets active. He’s very clear that none of this is his, or his new team’s, fault. It’s the old decisions that are getting in the way of new ideas. This buys him another three or four months.

But, then again, another late night in the office after a frustrating series of weeks. Things are not going well. And then he remembers the envelopes. He takes them out of his desk and rips open the second envelope.

Inside is a single page, with a single word. “Reorg.”

“That’s it!” he proclaims out loud. “I just need to reorganize the company and then we can be on track to meet our goals.”

So he takes out some paper, starts redesigning and moving the boxes around. He begins a communication effort the next day, explaining where the company needs to go and how the reorganization will help them get there.

Six months… eight months… nine months of activity, energy all around. Almost 12 months later.

It’s 10 o’clock at night, and again, not doing too well. Things just are not clicking.

And he thinks to himself, “Wait – third envelope!”

So he rips it open, hoping for another answer, another idea that will move things forward, get things on the right track.

Inside there is a single sheet of paper with one sentence. “Write another three envelopes.”

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