A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
October 27th, 2014 by William

Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out

Here’s a headline I’ll bet we’d all like to see: “Last week, the board of Acme Corporation fired the company’s founder and CEO Wile E. Coyote for being an overall asshole.” While we’ve never seen a press release like that–and probably never will–it’s nice to fanaticize. That’s because we’ve all worked somewhere where the head guy, or our immediate boss, was nothing less than an asshole. Assholery is an affliction that knows no boundary in management.

Since we’ve all worked at one time or the other in our careers for someone who displays all the traits of a bad leader, and a marginal manager, we’ve all probably had that popular phrase, “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” not far from our lips. These are the bosses that generally act like jerks, are condescending, micromanagers and workaholics that have mastered the game of divide and conquer and many of the other games people play that I detail in my book, Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw. These are the narcissistic bosses that treat their subordinates with distrust and have zero empathy for anyone else and are only focused on their own advancement. They reward sycophantic behavior and are incapable of accepting any contrary opinions to what they believe.

We keep asking ourselves over and over: “how did these people get to the position they’re in?” and “how do these people stay in power?” Occasionally we see press releases from a company that they’ve let their CEO go but the reasons are most often couched in the context of failing financial performance–the same reason that many lower level management-types get the axe. Sometimes it’s reported that the CEO/boss has resigned to pursue other opportunities, or to spend time with family, or they supposedly are retiring, but by and large the financial performance excuse is the number one reason we see CEOs being let go. Despite what’s publically said, I’d like to think many times the CEO/boss is actually being pushed out because he/she is an outright asshole.

So the question in my mind is how many of the firings, that are reported as being for bad financial performance, are really for bad financial performance? Wouldn’t it be nice for once that a company make a press release in which they tell it like it is? I know what you’re going to say–they couldn’t even if they wanted to, certainly not in today’s litigious society.

The irony is that because they are never called out for being an asshole, these CEOs/bosses always seem to land at some other company and are thus indirectly rewarded for their behavior. This happens because of the exact problem I’ve talked about many times before in this blog–companies tolerate and in many cases reward assholery because of the results these people achieve. Good financial results will trump bad behavior ALL the time.

We’ve all read of, and maybe even worked at, a company that is failing financially, so it then comes as no surprise when heads roll. After all the buck stops at the top and the neck of every bottle is at the top. So it makes sense that the head guy becomes the fall guy–the scapegoat. But how about the top guys who seem to hang on to their jobs despite bad financial performance?

The fact of the matter is that as long as an organization meets its financial goals an asshole boss will be tolerated. This is partially because a company’s boards of directors never really pays attention to how the employees in the trenches are treated let alone what they think or their opinions of the company’s so-called leaders. The board of directors is only focused on financial performance. This completely explains why Steve Jobs was tolerated all the while his jerkiness was common knowledge.

I wonder what’s really going on in these situations where there’s an asshole in charge yet nothing ever happens to him or her. Does the asshole have some juicy tidbit of negative information on someone higher in the organization that they’ll let become public if their job is threatened? This then is the biggest mystery in the business world–how do assholes manage to stay employed. If that question could be answered then the world would be rid of dysfunctional workplaces.

In my research for this post I came across an interesting four-year study by LeadershipIQ.com. In the study the researchers interviewed 1,087 board members from 286 public, private, business and healthcare organizations that fired, or otherwise forced out, their chief executive. In the words of Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ, “We get fixated on current financial performance,” he explains. “But if that was really the whole story, every CEO who ever missed a quarterly target or lost money would be immediately dismissed. And we know that plenty of world-class CEOs have seen their stock price dip, missed earnings forecasts, or even lost money for periods of time.”

The result of this study is one of the most comprehensive “behind closed doors” view on CEO terminations ever conducted. The following are the top five responses with the percentage of time this was the “real” reason for the CEOs termination:

MISMANAGING CHANGE (31%): Most pointed to a failure on the CEO’s part to properly motivate employees and managers, and more specifically, to adequately sell the need to change course.

IGNORING CUSTOMERS (28%): If a CEO ignores or alienates customers, it not only undermines the business and revenue, but it significantly undermines board support. Board members said their test for whether the CEO was sufficiently engaged in the business was the extent to which they evidenced intimate knowledge of customers, customer needs and developing trends. And from my own experience I can tell you that a CEO, who doesn’t understand his customers, doesn’t understand his employees either.

TOLERATING LOW PERFORMERS (27%): When CEOs allowed an obvious low performer to linger it destroyed the CEO’s credibility and made it politically difficult for them to hold others accountable. Board members reported that, in numerous cases, CEOs covered for poor performers out of fear that they might divulge embarrassing or indicting information. Remember what I noted above: ‘does the asshole have some juicy tidbit of negative information on someone higher in the organization?’ I guess this might also include the harboring or a loyal band of sycophants who are usually worthless in the long run.

DENYING REALITY (23%): What board members said they couldn’t handle was a CEO who was in denial and wouldn’t recognize the bad news and was far too insulated from frontline realities. This is a universal problem that I talk about in detail in my book, Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw. These are the bosses who cannot tolerate surprises that may upset their precarious status quo.

TOO MUCH TALK, NOT ENOUGH ACTION (22%): The study reported of CEOs who “talked the talk,” but were unable to “walk the walk.” These are the CEOs/bosses who talk endlessly about grand visions and new strategies, but never have a solid tactical plan for its implementation.

All these reasons are very interesting and all are indicative of people who probably have other behavioral problems, i.e., the typical behavior patterns of workplace assholes. All of the above behaviors can lead to bad financial performance, thus why it’s usually used as the excuse for the person’s departure.

So if you have a boss who exhibits any of the above traits (or worse behavioral traits) accept that unless he/she shows bad financial performance they have a 30% or less chance of facing the axe for those behaviors. Which is exactly my point–these people have an amazing staying power when they get into management and never have to pay the piper unless the numbers go sour.

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