Angry employees seeking their “pound of flesh” in the business environment are hardly new news. But when the spiteful employee is the boss, or worse yet the ultimate boss, the CEO, things can get quite nasty.
“Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – Lord Acton from the play, MacBeth.
What makes the CEO’s vendetta particularly concerning is the ability he or she has to carry out their plans and schemes unfettered – financial ruin, murder, theft, framing for a crime. While this is largely the stuff of fiction, there are very real instances of the abuse of power that occur on a daily basis in companies around the world.
The manager with the big mouth
While I served as a division president with one of my former employers, I had a subordinate spread an unfounded rumor about me. The specific rumor – that I was being “given” a car by the company for every hundred employees I laid off – came at a particularly sensitive juncture. At that time, we were making a particularly deep cut in employment because of an unexpectedly weak seasonal market for our product. I also had recently taken delivery of a new car – albeit, one I’d ordered over a year before.
The circumstances made what was a ridiculous fabrication sound somewhat plausible, at least to some of the employees.
The situation made me angry. Once I discovered where the story originated, I was even more angry. In my heart I wanted revenge.
As a division president, I didn’t have the power of the CEO, but I did have quite a bit of latitude. I could have easily fired this particular employee and no one would have batted an eye. I could have claimed the firing was for cause – insubordination – and he wouldn’t have been able to argue. I could have smeared his name in the local area with other employers, and done my best to make sure he had to leave town to find a job. And while this last action might or might not have succeeded, it would have undoubtedly added plenty of stress and challenge to his life.
Tempted though I was, I did none of those things. Instead, I had a message sent to my rumor-monger through his supervisor to simply “knock it off.” Then I did my best to set my personal feelings aside and move on.
Not every senior manager would be so generous.
Tugging on Tiger Tails
At times I’ve found myself tempted to be a contrarian, going against my boss’s wishes. Sometimes this is because I believe the boss is wrong, but more often it is simply a visceral reaction to being told what to do. I knew I was pulling the “tiger’s tail,” but at the time I’m not sure I understood the potential consequences.
Taking this tact is extremely dangerous, particularly the higher up the ladder you go. When your boss is the CEO, just looking at him cross-eyed can mess up your life in ways you’ve never even thought of.
Working “Off Hours”
A co-worker I spent a fair amount of time with at one employer had a habit of arriving to the office late, but staying at work until all hours of the night when needed. This rubbed our mutual boss the wrong way, most likely because he wasn’t at the boss’s beck and call whenever needed.
“Rubbing the wrong way” became “constant irritation.” Eventually this grew into anger. When the employee made a less than stellar presentation to a board of directors committee, shortly thereafter he was fired. Fortunately for him, the vindictiveness didn’t go beyond that.
The Bad Project
In my final example, I watched as the CEO presided over a six-year development project. The project, admittedly complex, was a new product for a new market, one that would utilize existing equipment capacity in our factories.
The prospect was seductive. If it worked, we would provide a new alternative to customers and would facilitate getting them to the next generation of their product.
Unfortunately, however, it never came to pass. The design, though clever, was simply too expensive.
I had the dubious honor of shutting the project down.
After it was all over, and the dust settled, the two people directly responsible for managing the project set up their own company and tried to launch a similar product into the market.
That made my boss angry. Really, really angry.
I saw an opportunity to license the patents we’d developed during our six years of fruitless development to the new company and possibly recover some of our expenses.
My boss, on the other hand, had other priorities.
He vowed that he would NEVER agree to anything that would help the pair in ANY way. He held them responsible for “stringing him along” for six long years, and was, quite frankly, vindictive. No logical argument could penetrate his position.
Never underestimate the impact of alienating your boss, particularly if he or she is high on the corporate ladder. 29.4
Other Recent Posts:
This is the cover of my latest novel, PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES, released on April 21, 2014. This story marks the return of LEVERAGE characters Mark Carson and Cathy Chin, now going by the name of Matt and Sandy Lively and on the run from the FBI. The pair are working for a remote British Columbia lodge specializing in Corporate adventure/retreats for senior executives. When the Redhouse Consulting retreat goes horribly wrong, Matt finds himself pursuing kidnappers through the wilderness, while Sandy simultaneously tries to fend off an inquisitive police detective and an aggressive lodge owner.
My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.