Cruel Leadership Truths
Make management put it in writing. Verbals have no value. Watch what they do, not what they say.
A close friend of mine was a successful software coder for a Fortune 500 company. She worked from home, making $180K, living in a beautiful condo while traveling the world finalizing system installations. Carol loved traveling. Her boss granted her the perks of a high potential employee including executive life insurance, gym membership and a company car.
She was not satisfied with her situation. Carol always wanted to be in charge. My position as an Operations Director (at a different company) was the job she was seeking. She was skilled enough to transition.
The Operations leader holds a position of true power. Operations controls all purchases for the company to make the product. This department places the purchase orders for the indirect purchases of items such as coffee and toilet paper.
Operations also owns the physical facility, shipping and receiving. Everyone who makes ships or touches the product works for Operations. Operations was the plum assignment that Carol desired.
Carol, Kenneth and I graduated Engineering school together. We teamed up for our senior project. I was the electrical engineer, Kenneth was the mechanical engineer, and Carol was the software coder for our ambitious senior project. We spent a lot of time together and pulled off a great project.
Kenneth was setting up a start-up. He had the money and the facility…all he needed was a Leadership team. We met for dinner.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin
He offered Carol and I positions in the start-up, for me Engineering Vice-President, for Carol the coveted Operations VP. We would be in charge, answering only to Ken; able to set up our staff by hiring whoever we wanted, able to structure the brand-new departments in any form that we choose.
There was one little hitch; we would not be paid until the start-up landed its first contract. We would not get stock (the investors had all the stock). Essentially, we would work for the blue sky dream.
“Well, hello there. You look like a bad decision. Come on over here.” Unknown
We would live on our savings until the company created revenue. This was the proposal. We would lose a year’s pay and benefits if Ken’s start-up company was unsuccessful.
Being paid double our salaries and our expenses for the year in a large lump sum plus the allure of unlimited power was an intoxicating offer. It would be a waterfall of money.
It was hinted that if the start-up were successful, we would be more than rich and powerful. We would be the captains of our industry. Whew. Heady stuff.
Kenneth wanted us to start right away. He wanted us to quit our current positions with zero notice. He had nothing written, no business plans, no contracts. His business strategy was secret, and he was unwilling to share it.
I was married with two children. I needed to talk to my spouse. It upset Ken that I did not jump at his offer.
After debating with my spouse all night, when the sun rose the next day, we decided that if Kenneth would provide a written offer, I would review the paperwork.
If the offer contained what Kenneth promised, I would take the job. I was excited.
Kenneth would not put his proposition in writing; he said he was too busy. I offered to have a lawyer draw up the paperwork.
“No,” he said. “If I didn’t trust him, then our relationship would never work.”
He was right.
I put on my big girl pants and made the hard decision, I did not take the job, but I wanted to. I was second guessing myself all the way.
Carol took the position. It was everything she ever wanted. Although she and I continued to meet and socialize, Ken no longer attended the gatherings. He was after all Carols’ boss: in his view, silly irreverent conversations were no longer appropriate.
Carol worked for Kenneth with no salary and no benefits for fourteen months. After fourteen long months, the company won the well-paid contract.
“Everything happens for a reason but sometimes the reason is that you are stupid and make bad decisions.” — the things we say.com
Carol was not returning my calls to congratulate her on her success. I was certain that she wanted to rub my remorseful decision making in, but she did not call. I went by her apartment, unannounced. She no longer lived there.
Through mutual friends, I found out when the customer contract came in, Kenneth had fired Carol. Worst yet was the way he treated his team.
“All I want to say is that
They don’t really care about us
All I want to say is that
They don’t really care about us” — Michael Jackson
He invited the leadership team to a celebration lunch outside the company.
Ken gave a speech on how thankful he was that the team had worked so hard and long for the company.
He passed out envelopes to each person. The envelopes contained an application to apply for a job at the company. They would compensate anyone who successfully applied and won the position they had already worked for the last year.
While the executives were out of the plant, their computers were picked up from their desks and their access badges turned off.
No one was allowed back in the company until their background checks were completed and they were formally hired. So scandalous. He was a villain.
One Wednesday night, I sat outside her mother’s home, waiting for Carol.
two gallons of cherry vanilla ice cream,
a large bottle of Diamond Sapphire Vodka,
a jar of anchovy stuffed olives,
two large containers of soup,
and my empathy to offer.
When we were in college, Carol and I had perfected the “ Naomi Campbell walk” to attract boys to us. A tall, proud, hip-swiveling, high stepping, hair swinging walk copied from the famous model.
When I saw Carol pull up, I got out of my car and sauntered over to her with my best Naomi Campbell runway walk.
I had bags out in both hands with the easily recognizable vodka bottle sticking up.
“You are one pitiful broke bitch,” I said. “ Walk with me.”
She joined me — Naomi Campbell walking across to her mom’s house. We went in, went down to her basement to cry in our ice cream drinks about the loss of old friendships and trust.
When the money came in, it was too much money; Kenneth and his wife could not resist keeping it all. From their perspective, they were instrumental in getting the contract and they deserved the fruits of everyone’s labor.
Paying what they owed to the team would have cut into their shares, so they shafted everyone who did not have a commitment in writing. Not a single person passed the background checks.
There was nothing in writing — not even emails. The atrocious bosses had a disastrous effect on their employees.
Carol never recovered from that setback. Her taste for risk lessened. She still lives in her mother’s house, although no longer in the basement. She does not travel. She lost her desire to be the Leader. Carol does not trust her bosses.
Do not accept verbal’s for life-changing work decisions. Make management put it in writing.
Life is too short to make betrayal easy.
Another leadership read: The Bad Management Conundrum
I can be reached at https://www.tonicrowewriter.com/