One Bad Leader Creates a Global Competitor

Some people wondered how Tony became a leader with an executive position at this multi-national corporation. He was prone to lose his temper. He would yell at employees – not even just front-line employees, but other professionals and executives. He was even seen having snatched someone’s smartphone from the hands of a team member and threw it at him.

The way Tony got and kept his job was because things got done on his watch. When Tony was in charge, people got reports done when he wanted them done, they put in the hours Tony wanted put in, and they did things the way he wanted them done. On paper, if you didn’t know how he did it, it looked like he was a top-notch executive.

Employees under his authority put in for transfers in unprecedented numbers. They sought employment elsewhere and quit as soon as they found another job. For a while, the company just ascribed this to a new-management-shuffle, and they were pleased that someone had gotten things under control.

Don was one of the company superstars. Which technically Don was in charge of his own division, he answered to Tony. Tony never let him forget it. Don was already considering looking for a position at another company, but at his level it would have required a move. Even so, he was keeping his eyes open.

The final straw came one day after Don had finished solving a significant contractual problem with one of their multi-million dollar clients. The client was trying to pay fifteen cents on the dollar and cancel the contract. Corporate counsel was ready to settle at twenty-five cents on the dollars. Don got them to pay more than half. The negotiation had Don and his team up until nearly midnight phone conferencing with a team from the other company.

Don reported his results the next day and looked forward to a three-day weekend with his family. Compiling the paperwork and getting all the numbers together would take a few days, and he told Tony that the final close-out report would be done by the following Friday.

That wasn’t good enough for Tony. He said he wanted it on Tuesday.

Don explained that it was a three-day weekend, and he and several members of his team all had plans with their families. Tony would have the report on Friday. The only way to get it done by the end of the day on Tuesday would be for him and some of his team members to cancel their weekend with their family and work instead. Don said no.

Tony threw one of his famous tantrums, escalating the volume and the threats to Don’s career until Don finally agreed.

Tony had his report on Tuesday. Tony thought he won.

We all do this. We all lose sight of the big picture. We get caught up in the moment and have no idea what kind of damage we’re doing to the long game.

Tony had won his play. He got his way. He didn’t have to wait four extra days for his report. What he didn’t know is that he had just alienated one of the most important members of the company he worked for he just didn’t know it.

Don decided it was time to move on. He ended up being the missing piece of a puzzle another team was trying to solve. They needed someone exactly like Don to help them launch a new business.

Don quit his job and joined this new team. The built their infrastructure and developed their systems with Don as a key player. He was the number four person on the team, and in short order, he was the number two player on the team.

Then they pulled the trigger on their plan. A billion dollar leveraged purchase transformed them in a twinkling of an eye into a global direct competitor with Don’s old employer. Don became the International Vice President and oversaw not only operations in 22 countries, but he also coordinated the interaction of the conglomerate’s relationships for maximum international profits and minimizing taxes in multiple jurisdictions.

It was Tony that created the problem. Don was perfectly content in his role at the company. He was an expert at what he did, earned good money, had a great team – it was just Tony.

Why This Matters to Us

Tony was a great leader if you count leadership by “getting the numbers.” He was a bad leader of people if you understand that leadership is not just making people do what you want ““ it’s building and maintaining the key relationships you need on your team.

In order for Tony’s employers to end up with a new global competitor, it took a team capable of orchestrating a billion dollar acquisition and managing a 22 country international conglomerate. How many people can do that? Not many. And Tony had no way to know that Don was about to be a key player in a company that could cost his company almost a third of their business.

Let’s put this in perspective. Don was one of those rare gems that could be a top-four on a billion-dollar company’s team.

Most of us don’t play the business game at that level. All it would take for someone to compete with us is to step up and start. If I can start my business on a shoestring, someone on my team could do the same thing. If I alienate one of those people, I could end up with an instant competitor.

If most of what I have is an idea and I’m starting with very little money, someone with my idea can take that idea and about the same amount of “no money” I have, and go head to head with me. Even if I happen to have hired a lawyer to help me craft enforceable non-compete agreements, can I afford to enforce them?

The problem here is created on the human level. Tony created a global, billion-dollar competitor by alienating the wrong person. If we’re a small start-up barely capitalized enough to operate for our early years, someone who knows our game can step up and compete with us much more easily.

The solution is at a human level, too. If someone likes us, he is much less likely to do something like compete directly with us. If that person respects us as a quality human being and a good leader, then that person won’t do something as blatantly aggressive as go head to head in direct competition.

Sometimes people get mean and think it’s okay because it’s “just business.”

Here’s an important quote I first learned from my father: “Business may be business, but business people are still people.”

Basically, we treat our business relationships by the basic rules we use in any relationship. If we want our customers to keep doing business with us, we need to make sure they’re happy with us – with “under-promise” and “over-deliver” being key. If we want our employees to keep working for us, we need to make sure they’re also happy with us – by keeping our promises and showing respect.

It just takes good leadership and respect for others.