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.

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