Dragged Down By Seeking Revenge

I've met quite a few people during my career that seem to fixate on the idea of getting "payback" for "injuries" both real and perceived.  I've even been aware of a few instances when such a person successfully managed to take revenge on an enemy.

But more often than not, the attempt backfires, dragging the revenge-seeker, the victim, and often innocent bystanders down, damaging all of their reputations.

While seeking revenge is a fairly natural reaction to being wronged, it has absolutely no place in a business setting.  Those seeking revenge are often caught, at least partially because they become so focused on "getting even" that they miss how the entire episode will be perceived once it comes to light.  And these schemes almost always seem to come to light, making the instigator looks petty, childish, and untrustworthy.

For example, one of my direct reports -- a vice president of the company -- decided he wanted to "get even" with one of his peers.  The original "offense" remained a mystery.  Had I ever learned it, I likely would have concluded my revenge-seeking manager should have ignored it and gotten on with his job.  Unfortunately, for some reason the man just couldn't allow things to slide.  His method of getting even was more clever than most -- he sat back and watched his enemy plan an elaborate customer event (nearly 1,000 people for four days) without offering input or comment.  At the last moment, he attempted to undermine the entire event by claiming "we couldn't afford to do it at the planned time," and that "he wasn't consulted."

In particular, the second claim irritated me.  This manager had passively sat through two dozen meetings where details of the event were discussed.  It was obvious he was "laying in the weeds" waiting for the right moment to embarrass his peer.

They attempt partially worked -- we ultimately delayed the event by a few months.  But the instigating manager also appeared petty and stupid.  Because all his other peers recognized the motivation behind the behavior, it reduced their willingness to work with the manager.  While the man lasted several more years (I was transferred to another job a few months later, giving the guy a "reset" opportunity.  Had I stayed, he was definitely on his way out.) he eventually retired early experiencing great stress.  Few, if any, mourned  his departure.

In another example, I watched as my boss attempted to take revenge on one of his peers.  This particular boss was continuously involved in political infighting, and felt this particular peer had interfered with his shot at a key promotion.

The instigator's tactic was to simply criticize everything his target did.  The action was well timed -- that particularly business unit was in a cyclical downturn --  and the victim was ultimately fired from his position.  Whether the revenge tactics contributed to the executive's demise, is debatable.

Their mutual boss, however, recognized the roll the instigator played in stirring things up, and "rewarded" him by adding the peers responsibilities to his own.  Ultimately, the instigator couldn't turn the cyclically down "sow's ear" of a business into a silk purse, and he too was fired.

Everyone recognized the contribution the revenge-seeker's own behavior made to his ultimate demise, and while most of us simply shook our heads the revenge scheme did nothing to enhance his reputation as a professional manager.

I'm sure there have been a few instances where a revenge-seeking employee was able to quietly put his plans in place, undermining or injuring a competitor without others recognizing what was going on.  But when it is recognized, when it is plainly obvious what is going one -- which experience convinces me is most of the time -- the revenge-seeker inflicts more injury to himself than to his target.

If you want to carefully manage your career, leave revenge for Hollywood.  Instead simply act like an adult and do your job.  21.2

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