The Power Trip

I’ll keep this short, I’m neck deep in analysis for the upcoming Wave report –while trying to balance client needs and projects, I’m busy.

When I worked at web startup in the first web boom, all kinds of people came to power that didn’t have the credentials or experience. The demand for leadership in this fast growing company resulted in immature professionals quickly moving to middle management. I remember two distinct instances where the power went to their head and I now tell their stories for all to learn:

Mr M. and the Weekly Porn Emails
Although we were in IT/Software Engineering Mr M. wasn’t from tech, and in fact, had very few technical skills, so his talent became managing one very talented technical worker. He spent most of his time causing drama, going out to lunch, and surfing and sharing porn at the office. In fact, every week, he would gather his favorite porn screenshots from playboy (I think he and his college buddies had an email list) and he would forward it to his friends. Sadly, friends and colleagues aren’t always the same, and in his mis judgement he repeatedly sent it to those under him –including me. In his wisdom, he even sent it to his subordinate, the talented tech guy. It only took a few months for this to get back to HR, and he was soon in crying his eyes out to keep his job in the VPs office while the rest of the office laughed at him for months –and still do today.

Moral of the story? Friends and colleagues aren’t always the same –respect the boundaries.

The Ego of Mr W. comes full circle
Mr W, was actually often in conflict with Mr M, they’d both moved into middle management in IT, yet by far, I’d prefer to be friends with Mr M. Now, Mr W on the other hand, through his psuedo-power around constantly telling everyone “I”m a director” and expecting us to kowtow to him with our foreheads buried to his entry of his window facing cubicle. He abused his power, taking over people’s projects –taking credit for them. I always remembered when he wanted something, he would come by and act so nice, so sweet, then BAM, here comes the Friday afternoon work request. Eventually, he used his power to intimidate the young girls, he didn’t realize it, but I was in the cube next to him when he told two female colleagues how he’d “love to get between them” and chuckle. He even made unsavory comments about my girlfriend (I had her picture on my desk), which were quite stinging. Years later, Mr W ended up working for someone that’s related to me (the valley is a very, very, small place) and IMd me and apologized for his behavior, I accepted, but will never forget.

Moral of the story? You’ve moved into power, so now act like it, and do something to improve yourself and those around you. Part 2: Be nice to everyone, you never know who will be in power.

Your turn…
Wow, that felt good. Now’s your chance to let it fly, jump on to the Jeremiah couch, and feel free to rant and rave, but two rules: 1) don’t give away the name of the offender or company name. 2) Give a moral of the story, so we can all learn. If you feel like being anonymous, I’m ok with that too.

  • I remember Mr B who was hired to “reorganize” a booming web agency we started in a garage and that ended crashing with more than 300 employee…

    He knew a little about IT shop, but web agencies are a very different story, and despite being officialy #2, he was so affraid of the creative crowd that he kept on being nice, so nice that in fact, nobody really took him seriously, and nothing was ever reorganized, desipte his effort to treat the problem as yet another IT shop growing crisis… until the whole thing crashed a few year after the bubble (yes, there was a lot of cash in the bank to survive this long).

    I guess the morale is think twice before applying a previously mastered knowledge to a whole new field, and don’t be affraid to learn things that are obviously weird (creating value with creativity? Duh?)

  • I work with both of those people…I think we all do. I’ve worked with drunks, on the job drug users, porn addicts, adultery, sloths, the company CEO’s son, etc. etc. I’ve seen it all in places you would never believe that sort of thing would go on. I love a new job because with it always comes some new juicy office personalities. Good times.

  • Susanna

    I worked for an “interactive agency” during the boom. We had one product that we were good at building and customizing and that our customers liked and got a good ROI on. But gradually, we started getting fewer and fewer requests for this product.

    It turns out the salespeople didn’t want to sell it anymore because it wasn’t new enough. It wasn’t internet-y enough. They wanted to sell web site development. Never mind that there were all kinds of ways to integrate our product with the web – it was software, not a web site, so it wasn’t cool anymore, so the salespeople wouldn’t touch it. One saleswoman we asked about it said as much.

    The company, which had built a really good niche around this product, became just another bloated web agency and suffered the fate of a million others during the dot-com bust.

    Moral of the story: doing what seems cool and trendy isn’t always the best business decision.

  • I worked for Mr. G, many years ago, as a research analyst. He was a VP in a tech start-up – who I imagine was in over his head. He would promise clients their every wish, knowing full well we couldn’t deliver. But he got their money up front.

    Typical scenario: Clients arrive, demanding items promised. Mr G’s response? Ask me to join the meeting in progress. And use me as scapegoat.

    The client, understandably upset, would demand answers of Mr G who would turn to me and ask, “Tracey, why haven’t you done this?” Having no idea what he was talking about (never invited to prior meetings with said client), I would stammer on about something, trying not to make either of us look like fools.

    As his coup d’etat, Mr G would turn to the client and remark “so hard to find good help these days” then dismiss me. In effect, blaming me for his mismanagement and lies.

    I was his ringer. His “get out of jail free” card. Easier to drag me in, rather than admit his mistakes.

    As an aside, the other men in the office called the female employees “skirts”.

    I guess there are two morals to this story – 1) No job is worth demeaning yourself. I am not a “skirt”. Less than six months later I walked into Mr G’s office and quit on the spot. 2) Cappuccino-makers, foosball tables and fancy loft spaces do not a successful start-up make. Be nice and play fair with those around you. Because someday they may post your story on a blog, for all the world to read.

  • Tracey

    Wow, that is powerful, thanks for sharing.

  • eww… I’ve got one! Worked for a start up that was bought and sold three times while I worked there (a whole 8 months!) Like most, we had a pool table, keg in the fridge most Fridays and Playstation-esque type set up in the “game-room” as well as a fully stocked kitchen with snacks, sodas, meals in a can, etc… The VP that managed the sales people would constantly go to the kitchen and STUFF his duffle bag with all of the food that was probably meant for the developers and architects that were working to all hours of the night! INSTANT loss of credibility from me- and from anyone else that saw this crap! He was the first to be let go when the SHTF! 6 months later- the company crumbled. Great post by the way Jeremiah!

  • LtlBird

    Oh, so many stories come to mind. But most recently, there’s the boss who, when I asked her why I was passed over for a promotion, told me (and this is almost verbatim) that it was because I’d been out a lot to take care of my son when he was sick. (My husband had been travelling a lot on business.)

    Keep in mind that “a lot” was maybe 5 days during a year, and that during those 5 days, I would always log in while my son was sleeping so I could meet my deadlines.

    This same boss also asked my former manager whether I was trying to get pregnant and if so, whether I was planning to come back to work after I had the baby.

    Was this a startup? No, it was a major Fortune 500 company here in the valley, and my guess is that HR would have been horrified had I told them. As it was, I bided my time and got a better job at another company.

    Although I find that repeating this stories sometimes imbues them with more power, wow, it felt good to get this off my chest.

    And I haven’t even touched on the born-again Christian boss; the boss who had a hit put out on him by the jealous husband of the co-worker with whom he was having an affair; the boss who wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom on a business trip; or the “Devil Wears Prada” boss.

  • Jeremiah –

    Walking into his office that last time was a defining moment for me, but more so now that a decade has past. Thinking back on it, I can’t believe that type of behavior was par for the course.

    Great post – thanks for the opportunity to talk about my experience.

    -THR

  • Nice! I love therapy!

    Mr P. and the blog: I had a small personal blog that acted like an online journal where I would jot down random thoughts of things going on in my life – I was just learning how to blog and getting my feet wet in social media.

    One day the CEO (also Mr. P, but a different one) pulls me into the office and tells me he found my blog and was upset that I was divulging company trade secrets on my blog. Surprised that I had even done that I immediately apologized and asked where specifically I had mentioned this sensitive information. He fumbled a bit and couldn’t bring up anything.

    Regardless I went back into the blog and removed any mention of the company – lesson learned I thought.

    Come to find out the CEO went to all of the big wigs and lied about what I was putting on my blog. Something to the effect of how stupid the people I worked with were and how much trouble to company was in – NOT TRUE!! Also come to find out he did this before talking to me and branded me as the traitor of the company giving away all our secrets.

    Anyway back to Mr. P – who was the residential, SEO, IT, Porn expert. Just about every time I with this guy the discussion would begin with – hey don’t tell anyone this but so and so is getting let go, or the company is in deep s***, or do you know how much this person makes?

    Here was the real traitor of the company and yet he continued to fake his way to being best friends of the owners. He also made a very fake attempt of being my friend.

    Come to find out he had been spying on my blog and reported what I was saying to the CEO, also saying that I was going online to our competitors and telling them what our company was up to.

    Needless to say I eventually was let go but for financial reasons. Though the branding of being the traitor still stung me and stings me a bit today.

    Come to find out Mr. P is no longer with the co. Guess his trail of lies caught up with him. And I got an email from the owner thanking me for the work I’ve done and wanting to keep in touch.

    Morals of the story:

    Lesson learned – Be aware not everyone will be clear of your intentions, so what seems like an innocent personal journal to you can be a powder keg to the company you work for.

    From the Godfather – keep your friends close and your enemies closer. I was being spied upon, but in turn I spied keep very close tabs (using social media) on what was being said about me.

    Knowledge is power- The laptop I was using originally belonged to one of the owners. Mr.P forgot to clean out the Trillian IM history. Finding this was a gold mine of information that went back 3 years and contained just about every lie I was told by not only the company but by Mr.P himself.

    Choose your battles wisely – with the arsenal of info in my hands I could have easily buried Mr.P and the company the burned me. BUT – would this make me feel any better and was it worth it? No, I knew things would catch up Mr. P sooner than later. And they did – big time.

    Keep your honor – no one is perfect and looking back I learned some big lessons. The scars are still healing but with them comes knowledge I can take away to the next level. I walked away from that co. with more skills and a clean reputation. Nuff said!

    Wow – I feel great! Thanks!! 🙂

  • had mr. w almost ten years. was not able to quit long time, was addicted. he gave me always supid tasks – but no direction or goal. weird thing. he had zero friends – only millions euros, no future – only work. he gave me the feeling, i will replace him soon, that kept me in – i guess. as i realized, he will never leave – i could leave!

    moral of the story: ist possible, to get away from your addictions anytime! it hurts, but gives you freedom.

  • Nancy P

    Ha ha, I just love this. Here is the saddest story of them all. I worked with two, previously wildly successful Stanford Grads, both who had extraordinary resumes and some serious Valley swat. One was a gem, and the other a seriously “funny little man”.

    We had a VP of Biz Dev (Mr. V) who seemed to be one of the only ones who knew what was to come (great guy btw), kept saying, “just wait, this is not going to last”. We “refocused” three times while I was there, watched the company below us sadly pack up and go while one of the Founders literally clapped his hands in glee whilst he engaged in some serious Schadenfreude.

    It made my physically ill to see his behavior, people were losing their jobs, their investments, you get the picture.

    Needless to say, maybe 5 months later we were all packing up our things – honestly I could barely contain my eagerness to get out of there.

    Moral – There but for the Grace of the flippin Universe Go all of Us.

  • Jennifer

    We recently experienced a seismic shift in our company as we changed CEOs, organizational structure and Executive Suite Membership. Everyone is still settling and it seems to be going well. My department has yet to settle because we don’t have a VP yet.

    Our VP had been around for 18 months or so when she resigned. There are all sorts of rumors around the resignation and lot of institutional intuition that would support those rumors, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll not list them here. The VP left and won’t be back and the place seems to be coming to life now that this person is gone. I’ve had toxic managers before… and this one was toxic.

    I was in an office with my boss one day when the VP came in ranting about a project they were doing at the C-Level that my boss was involved in and said things like “Someone is thinking above his pay grade!” I shouldn’t have been there for that. It seems unprofessional that one member of the C-Suite would criticize another behind his back and in front of what would amount to an entry-level employee.

    There were 1:30am conference calls that involved ten people in the 1:30am timezone because the VP was 10 time zones away and wanted to meet during business hours there. Every project I did at the VP’s request fell into a black hole of nothingness. The VP liked to give arbitrary deadlines and failed to plan adequately for projects that had deadlines, resulting in many requests that got “rush” status attached to them.

    Our company is in the information tech sector, and has a predictable casual dress code and good options for flexible work and remote work. Many of our employees work from home at least two days a week and wear jeans and t-shirts in the office when they are there. Not our department… By order of the VP, we were in high-end business casual (not exactly three piece suits but they wouldn’t be out of place) and showed up at the office every single day, whether we had a business reason to be there or not. The department area was very tomblike, there was little laughter and everyone knew when the VP was having a bad day.

    Morale sunk significantly and with our department comprising about a quarter of the office staff in our location, the office was impacted severely by this toxic VP. It was very “Office Space”-like. We lost a few employees in the department who had been with the company since the start, and probably lost between 30 and 40 years worth of institutional knowledge and understanding in the process. Visions of strategy smashed efforts at establishing process. We are definitely still a startup with our processes, and we’re WAY to big to be that disorganized and it’s showing.

    We were glad to see the VP go and we got an assurance that the next would be very carefully chosen to fit with the culture of the company more. The department is slowly healing.

  • Jennifer

    Ack. I forgot my Moral.
    Moral: Hiring, especially at the executive level, should be carefully considered and with company culture in mind. Careful consideration of both culture and need should increase as the number of levels below the person increases.

  • Jennifer

    Wow. If someone is “thinking about their pay grade” isn’t that a value to the company? (better thinking for less money?)

  • A friend of mine I work with told me this little story. She just began working with that week and her manager is pretty laid back. So, he decides to IM her on her very first day and gossip to her about every single person in the IT department, who she should talk to, who she shouldn’t, who does what, etc etc. She told me everything he said and I just chuckled…she immediately lost respect for her boss the very first day at the job. On top of that, he forgets meetings and even conversations.

    Moral to the story: Save the gossiping for your girlfriend/boyfriend unless you want to lose all respect from your employees.

  • Mr. E

    Years ago I managed a very talented in-house web team for a large Fortune 1000 company. The team had great rapport and an even better work ethic. Built from the ground-up, the team stayed on for the creative energy and culture of the team — even at the height of the first dot.com gold rush.

    As the site grew in quality, traffic and prominence, adding leadership was required.

    The best candidates were chasing money at internet start-ups, and it was difficult to find a solid candidate with the right credentials or experience to consider a corporate environment.

    Into this creative and productive environment came Ms. K.

    Ms. K’s background checked out fine, references and former employers shared good words (more on this later) and her interview seemed solid – not just jingoistic jargon.

    Yet things went south after her probationary period ended. Her helpful and supportive facade shattered and was replaced with an abrasive and condescending version. Her ambitions outpaced her abilities and “where’s there’s smoke, there’s mirrors” became the team’s slogan for her. Team in-fighting ensued, and I stepped up to actively coach her on people skills nearly every week after some “incident”.

    Not long later, as the first dot.com wave broke on shore, we contracted a web developer (let’s call her Ms. X). Ms. X’s face contorted and a horrified gasp escaped to the words “My god! What is SHE doing here?” when she first saw Ms. K. walk down the hall. She shared that she had worked with Ms K. at her previous job and the management team there had decided that laying off an entire team was the only way to rid themselves of the poisonous Ms K. without her pressing a lawsuit.

    As development plans for Ms K. were being considered, a layoff round provided the opportunity to rid ourselves of the same Ms K. – but only after the damage was done and talented team members left. So hated was Ms K. that former team members returned for a happy hour to toast her departure and share horror stories.

    Moral of the story? One hire can be a deal breaker – even with the best background and reference check. Make the probationary period count – exercise the new hire’s management talents early and often and fast track a development plan if required being sure to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

  • bng

    Was bullied around quite a lot in my early twenties.
    Heard one day that one of the bullies was coming for an interview at a company where a good friend of mine is HR manager.
    I told her what I thought about him, and she asked “do you think I should give him the job?”¨
    “No”.

    Feels good.

  • While the Internet may be the “Information Highway” it is circular.

    Be careful what bridges you burn… the world is only getting smaller.

  • Jennifer

    Jeremiah,

    You’d think that “thinking above his pay grade” would be a benefit – if the person who was doing it wasn’t above the VP on the org chart and a direct report to the CEO. The person being criticized may have been working outside subject matter expertise, but that wasn’t the sentiment expressed by the VP at all. 🙁

    Thanks for opening this topic. It’s a good one. Hope your work gets less hectic.

  • Anyone notice the amount of woman posting their experiences? I’ve seen it all, from extreme sexual harrassment (nearly attacked) during a prolonged interview, to sexist comments, lower pay, bosses that shut the heat off on us… all of it.

    During my time in startups though its mostly been really poor management during the boom because of the gold rush mentality. Where I am now is excellent and I would credit that due to the outrageous mistakes made eight years ago in this boom/bust economy.

  • OK I will say this, it is very important to hire people who fit the culture. At X startup, the CEO’s Executive Assistant clashed with the marketing and creative team. She snapped her fingers at us, we were told to watch our language (which was not colorful at all) and demanded the music be shut off. We all quickly felt disciplined by someone whose role was not as crucial to the flow of productivity as our own. She seemed to be a bulldog for the boss, whose own attitude was quite friendly so I never understood his hiring practices when it came to her.

  • Eric McGlovin

    Upon this, I would have dealt with him quietly and swiftly during off hours.

    “unsavory comments about my girlfriend”

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  • A very good lesson. However, I don't think those who need it most will ever heed it.