There is a myth that high-paid, ‘high powered’, executives are worth their absurdly high salaries because it is necessary to pay them that much to ensnare their talents.
I submit that this is a bit silly. These ‘top management’ types don’t really run much. They are there for show and for stability. More on this later.
The only relevant Target departure was, imho, the CIO (Chief Information Officer) following the massive data breach. Not his fault that a contractor got into the point-of-sale terminals and captured pins et cetera before they were encrypted.
What was his fault, imho, was a culture that allowed this breach to go on for about a month – a month during which the system reported unusual activity, including the sending of files outside the firewalled enterprise. The CIO is probably responsible for how information breaches are acted on, and for how rapidly.
Back to the top executives, and the metaphor.
I have made and flown kites; not an expert, I am aware of the properties of kites, kite tails, and what they do.
Often the tail is part of the stability of the kite. It is possible to make a ‘bow kite’ which needs no tail, and a ‘box kite’ which is self-stable. Nevertheless most kites need a tail, and of the correct length.
The tail of a kite can be part of the fun of flying; it can be long, can flourish in the wind, can be colourful, and can be made of expensive material or paper rags.
The tail of the kite does not make it fly. The flat surfaces of the kite do this, controlled by an appropriately attached cord and someone who knows how to keep the kite in the air and out of trouble.
I look to the CIO and other second-tier executives to fulfill this role: safety, control, due diligence.
I look to the President and/or CEO to be the apparent stability of the enterprise. Like the tail of a kite, they hang there, blow in the wind, make appearances, and create stability.
They do not lift the main structure. They only stabilize it. Sometimes.