When things go wrong in a small company, it isn’t always you. This may come as a shock to some of you, but your boss may be losing his grip on what it takes to run the company.
If this is the case, he will generally attack the wrong target, usually the most productive staff member. He will not stop when the offending staff member is fired, because his wrath is partly self-directed. Once this unfortunate meltdown begins, it generally does not stop until all witnesses are fired or completely cowed.
For those of you who haven’t experienced this, here is a quick sketch of the dynamics involved. The very qualities that enable someone to build a business against all obstacles may precipitate a crisis in the enterprise when it gets to a size where others contribute to the decision making. An entrepreneur has to control an enormous number of variables in order to stand a chance of succeeding with his own company. He may not be able to manage or delegate, if he has never learned enough people skills to judge people properly and delegate tasks appropriately.
The manager who kept all of the balls in the air successfully when the company was smaller may spontaneously combust when others pick up the rhythm and start adding to the motion. This is a manager in trouble and he can feel so threatened that he will even invent facts to discredit those that appear to threaten him.
He will begin to undermine those who are most productive, and most threatening, by spreading trumped-up stories of errors and serious failures to comply with "policy". In a larger company, he can often get away with his campaign, because there are many who do not know what is actually going on and are eager to fill any vacancy. As long as positions are opening up ahead of them, they will eagerly support any rumor, no matter how far-fetched.
In smaller companies, the boss’s meltdown is more visible, but few of your co-workers will object, even though they see what is going on. Their desire to keep on receiving paychecks generally keeps them silent. They fear for their jobs if they were to comment openly. And, after a while, they find it hard to believe that there isn’t something to the stories that he is spreading. Besides, they are relieved that it isn’t them that is getting attacked. (Baa… Baaa.)
I have had first-hand experience with this unwelcome scenario at least four times. My results were varied, but the end result for the offending manager was always a loss of position and reputation.
The first time was at Adage, when I spoke up and nailed the manager involved by revealing what he had tried to conceal. Since he was not running the company and I was saving our reputation with a customer, I was lucky enough to prevail and got promoted. He faded away.
The second time was at Modcomp, where it was the original president of the company who lost it after five consecutive years of stellar growth, I was the twelfth founder to be forced out. When the last founder was eliminated, the Board fired the president.
The third time was at Taligent, where the president was a splendid example of the Peter Principle at work and was desperate for sales. I was a marketing manager, but was the only person making sales. After a month-long black PR campaign against me, I was summarily removed because my marketing plan was not a sales plan. One week later, IBM closed the facility.
Most recently, a micro-business business owner I know has begun the same meltdown. I made the decision today to sever my business connection with him, not out of any ill will, but life is too short to spend it watching another company implode. Perhaps my absence will remove the perceived threat that I present and he will be able to return to his earlier successful actions.
There is an old saying, "Don’t sleep with anyone crazier than you are."
It should be expanded to, "Don’t trust your future to anyone crazier than you are. Especially if you are the one who brings out their insecurities!"
I fervently hope that this does not apply to any of you and that you can read it as an amusing work of imaginative fiction.