Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Barry the Humble

I introduced "Barry" the Dictator in my last post. This time it's the same guy, different issue. Believe me, there are so many issues, I'll be exploring Barry in detail for a while. Today, it's Barry the Humble. No only did Barry think very highly of himself, but he attempted to tap into false modesty whenever possible, but failed miserably at it. He claimed to have read Jim Collins' acclaimed Good To Great , but I'm confident he missed the part about great leaders possessing humility as a key differentiating trait for Level 5 Leaders. But then again, he was more likely working toward becoming Machiavelli himself, rather than a Level 5 Leader.

So back to the humility part.

Bad Boss Move #3: Humiliation Through False Humility. Picture this, Barry's first big meeting as the new boss of a very high profile team. The team was in place for over a year when he joined, and we were gaining traction and support slowly across the company for our assigned change initiatives. Barry was hired to take over from my original boss, who had grown weary of the target on his back and the heat that was on the team to perform in a loath-to-change culture.

The meeting was an annual gathering of the firm's most senior partners, the Managing Partners of the various geographic divisions around the country. The Board of Directors was also present. Barry had been on the job for a little over a month and had already alienated the team itself with his aggressive and dictatorial management tactics. It was Barry's first real opportunity to make an impression on the crowd. After a brief introduction by the COO, Barry approached the podium with a strut and began with,
"I really don't like to talk about myself, but in order to give you an idea of the depth of my experience, I have put together a few slides to highlight my career accomplishments."
he then proceeded to speak about himself, in detail, for the next 35 minutes, complete with name-dropping of mid-level executives he claimed to be 'tight' with and details of his rare yacht with the 40-ft. mast. He awkwardly worked in the non-sequitur that he happens to own a few horses. It was quite sad and pathetic, really. I almost felt bad for him as I watched the uncomfortable silence and rolling eyes from audience members. It was a real-life scene from the BBC original series "The Office" with Barry standing in for Ricky Gervais.

I think the humiliation he brought upon himself was made worse by the fact that he was so visibly nervous and sweating profusely. Even after his presentation, when the meeting adjourned for a bathroom break, he awkwardly stood near groups of people talking to each other, while no one did anything to invite him into the fold or engage in conversation with him. He, in turn, attempted to pry his way in with odd comments to others' conversations in which he wasn't involved. It would have been painful to watch, if it hadn't been so personally satisfying for me to see him uncomfortable. After trying without success to join the group, he lowered himself to attempting to talk to me, his subordinate. I faked a cell phone call and excused myself.

I found out later, through involvement with him on projects, that he had greatly exaggerated, if not fabricated, much of his career experience. The gaps in his knowledge began growing wider and more obvious. He knew the team was onto his ruse and he began to attempt to rule the team with absolute power and intimidation tactics.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Barry the Dictator

One of my favorite "career" books ever is The No Asshole Rule, by Bob Sutton. Not only did it change my life, but it has changed my view of the environments in which I have worked. I have had my share of experiences as a manager within organizations where the ends justify the means. Without the no asshole rule, it's easy to become sucked into the bad boss vortex. Once you're in, trying to get by with nice-guy tactics is a bit like a salmon swimming upstream to spawn at the top of Niagara Falls. It's a losing proposition. You expend all your energy just to keep your head above water to avoid drowning.

In fact, after reading The No Asshole Rule I realized that it wasn't just me; I wasn't just overly sensitive or over-reacting; maybe I did have the constitution to continue as an executive, after all. I wasn't alone in my intolerance to workplace bullying. So I have stood up to a few a-holes myself. Sometimes it has gone in my favor, and sometimes it hasn't. But that's the END of the story. I'll get there eventually. What never ceases to amaze me is how many people have bad boss stories and how many of those stories end with the boss staying in place and the employee leaving. What a waste of time and talent.

Bad Boss Move #2: Insult Your Subordinates' Intelligence. After a year as the VP of Marketing for a large national professional services firm, I was told I would be getting a new boss. We'll call him Barry the Dictator. In the second week as the new boss, Barry called a team meeting for my peer- the VP of Sales, his local team members, my local team members and me. All of us are experienced and seasoned professionals. The group already met on a regular basis, both informally and formally, before he joined. There was no agenda for Barry's meeting, so there could be no preparation. He opened the meeting with, "Well, like a General, I don't get to pick my soldiers, but I guess we'll have to make do with what we have." Good opener. Only I would have replaced "general" with the word dictator. Great way to build motivation and loyalty. He then proceeded to set out his "rules of engagement", which included the fact that he forbids closed door conversations or phone calls unless he is included in them and that he enforces a 12-hour email reply policy. Anyone who does not reply to all emails in less than 12 hours will be seen to be negligent in his/her job. He began timing our replies to his various emails sent after the meeting. Any email that went back and forth more than twice required either a phone call or a physical walk to the other person's office. Never mind that most of the team received hundreds of emails per day from team members all over the country. At that point, he had not received more than a dozen emails. He insisted on being copied on every email sent, to ensure his involvement in all things. He created work for sport. The guy was a case study for Bob Sutton's No Asshole Rule book.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chester the Molester

So, I've recently been sucked into the Bad Boss Vortex. Again. It's a phenomenon that has a tendency to creep in, rather than just plopping down in front of you all at once. Once you've been sucked into the Bad Boss Vortex, it becomes all-consuming. It's what you talk about when you get up in the morning, it's what you talk about at dinner, and it's what keeps you awake in the middle of the night. It truly sucks. And for the most part, YOU suck to be around when you're stuck in the vortex. Once in the vortex, you are also probably not very motivated to do a good job, to keep your own subordinates engaged in productivity, or to put in any effort beyond the minimum required. It pretty much is a lose-lose proposition for you and the company for which you work. So riddle me this... why do so many companies a) hire managers without weighing input from previous subordinates, b) allow bad management to continue once it is identified, and c) promote strong individual contributors to the point of their incompetence as managers?

I, for one, like being a boss and I work very hard at being a good manager and a decent professional mentor to the people who report to me. I know it isn't always easy or straightforward, but it goes without saying that there are probably a few logical "Don'ts" out there for managers want to have a successful and motivated workforce. I've experienced a few doosies in my time. Here's one example that I'm pretty sure is a "Don't" for the books:

Bad boss move #1: Classic sexual harrassment. Long, long ago, I was being considered for a big promotion to national HQ, thanks to the support and efforts of my direct boss. I was one the of the youngest to ever be considered for the position. Big stuff. Yay for me. Move on. As part of the consideration process, a BigWig from corporate (we'll call him Chester the Molester) flew in to shadow me for a few days on the job. It was common practice to take visiting Senior Management out for dinner during field visits. So after a late dinner and several drinks on his part, Chester insisted on walking me to my car. One moment he was telling me things were looking good for my promotion, the next moment he pushed me up against my car and stuck his tongue down my throat. Not what I was expecting or hoping for. Understatement of the year. Not only was Chester married, but he had spent the dinner talking about how his daughter and I were about the same age... Ick. Skip to the end of the story. I was passed up for the promotion. My performance began to suffer.

I had been sucked into the Bad Boss Vortex. In reality, I hadn't done anything wrong. It was impossible for me to see outside the vortex for a long time. A few months later, in a moment of clarity, I reported the incident to Human Resources. They confronted chester, he admitted to it, they slapped his hand, and he kept his position on the Senior Management team. I left the company shortly afterward.

Stay tuned for Bad Boss Moves #2 - #999. There are plenty of Bad Boss Vortexes/Vortices out there and I've had my share. I'm not alone, am I?