Monday, September 12, 2011

Firing the Foul-Mouthed CEO

Last week foul-mouthed Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz was fired.

Her 32 month tenure was a failure and the company board fired her while she was out of town. She received the news in a telephone call when the Chairman read her a statement prepared by a lawyer.

I agree with Lucy Kellaway that it is poor form to fire anyone on the phone. It is more dignified and respectful to tell him personally.

And yet, Kallaway reflects, given Bartz’s appallingly bad temper and temperament, perhaps it was a good idea to fire her when she was on the other side of the continent. Apparently, Yahoo does not have a culture of confrontation, and Bartz was an in-your-face executive.

At the risk of sounding too agreeable, I concur with Kellaway on this point: “The main benefit of being sacked over the phone (or by e-mail or text message) is that it gives the person being fired something small and uncomplicated to visit their rage upon. To work yourself up into a froth of righteous indignation over the crass manner of the firing distracts you from the nasty, humiliating truth that you are deemed to have screwed up big time.”

Indeed, it is a nasty, humiliating truth that you messed up on the job.

Bartz, however, did not want anyone to have to wonder why she got axed. To put things into proper perspective, she gave an interview to Fortune where she denounced the other directors as doofuses and yelled that they had f***ed her over.

This tells us that class is not her strong suit. It also tells us that she is not out looking for another job.

Leadership differs from posturing in this: leaders do not need to show how tough they are by cursing like truck drivers. With all due respect to truck drivers, profanity does not show that you are in charge. It shows that you are adopting an attitude to mask your failure to take control of the situation.

Kellaway believes, as I do, that no one should rationalize profanity by saying that she is just speaking her mind. As I have often noted, being open and honest, as the therapy culture counsels ad nauseam, is a very poor policy.

Kellaway explains that it undermines the basis for corporate organization: “The third principle is that honesty can be a poor strategy, especially at work. Corporate life is based on a system of deals, and observing these is generally a better idea than speaking your mind. The deal with being CEO is that you get paid a lot to do the job, but if things don’t go well, you get fired. When that happens, the deal is that you keep your mouth shut and your purse open to receive a gi-normous pay-off. You don’t tell a journalist that your former board colleagues were ‘doofuses’. To do so might be honest, but it is also undignified and undermines the whole system.”

The point is well worth making and well worth underscoring.

1 comment:

Comment Monster said...

Maybe Bartz was just a foul-mouthed blowhard emotional four year old like a lot of the celebrity corporate superstars I've met.

I used to be like that (a foul-mouthed blowhard emotional four year old, not a superstar) until I developed deep and unwavering contempt for my heroes who acted that way.

It's the waitress test.

One of my favorite lines these days: "Wow, do you talk to waitresses like you just talked to me?" Everyone knows what that means. It's devastating, at the moment. Saying that has probably stalled my career, but I'm ok with the level at which I'm stalled.

As Amy Alkon says, being uncivil in the face of insufferable contempt and rudeness is a duty. I'm paraphrasing. She says it better.

The phrase "lives, fortunes and sacred honor" is something I say a lot these days as in, "We're not exactly risking our lives, fortunes and sacred honor here."

Back to Bartz. They may have fired her on email because they didn't want to duck knick-knacks getting thrown at their heads. Sometimes you don't break up classy because you're refusing to take more abuse.

And Bartz might have behaved more badly than a man in her situation, just because she's a chick.

Sorry, ladies, watch Cheaters if you don't know what I mean.