Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Where does Loyalty fit in your leadership formula? How ruthless do you really need to be?

A friend of mine whose brother (let's call him "Bill" to protect his privacy) worked for a company that claims to be the "world leader in its industry," let's call them ("ABC Co") to protect their privacy.  Recently Bill had the awful experience of being let go after 4 months of rejoining his former employer after a two year stint working for a smaller rival company, in a different geographic region of the country.  Bill's a successful sales guy.  He originally worked for ABC in the middle-Atlantic states for 6 years, then relocated to the southeast when he joined a rival.  ABC had no presence in the Southeastern US, and had no non-competition agreement with Bill, and he departed on good terms from ABC.

Two years go by and ABC expands to enter the Southeast market and one of their executives that is an old "friend" of Bill's working the same trade show "happens" to run into Bill while both are working the tradeshow.  The ABC executive boasts that they're intent on dominating the market and essentially will crush the smaller rival in the Southeast when they enter the Southeast.  The executives at ABC make it clear that they want Bill to rejoin ABC because of the groundwork he's done in locking up the market with a loyal customer following for the product line.   After a few weeks of discussion and discovery that Bill's smaller rival has no non-competition agreement in place preventing Bill from walking over to rejoin ABC, they woo Bill to come back promising him whatever he basically wants in exchange for signing a non-competition agreement with them.  A dream scenario for Bill, right?  Hardly.  On day one they incorporate his client list into their database making it now their intellectual property and begin a pattern of making his life difficult and making it clear that they will not let him succeeed in his new job.  His immediate manager does not return phone calls or emails in a timely manner to answer questions needed for Bill to do his job effectively. When problems emerge, Bill's manager lays all the blame squarely at his feet giving ABC cause to terminate him for non-performance.  They offer Bill two months pay in exchange for signing a non-disclosure agreement and accepting the non-competition agreement.  They don't want Bill working in their industry for another rival and communicating with "their new customers".

There's a lesson of leadership or lack of it here by the executives of ABC, and there is also a lesson in leadership for Bill in this scenario that goes to loyalty.  ABC would probably be wise to settle with Bill and the rival company Bill left to join ABC.  In fact, if I were Bill, I would go back to the smaller rival and promise to make it rain all over the Southeast with his former customers which ABC is clearly poaching if they would in exchange  indemnify and defend him as an employee from any claims of violating ABC's non-competition agreement that Bill signed when he joined ABC (which was a condition of their offer to join).   It certainly seems like it is intentional interference in the smaller rival's business by ABC, but I suppose it could be argued either way to decide.  It is precisely this lack of loyalty in business that should have you outraged when an "industry leader" uses tactics like this.  There was a complete breach of trust by ABC executives that brought Bill into this company on the promise of a new career.  How ruthless does a company or organization need to be these days to compete?

It is fascinating to me that in publicly traded organizations and in public policy circles so called "leaders" use subjective techniques to allow crony hires and terminations.  One of the 14 characteristics of leadership valued highly by the USMC is "Loyalty" among their leaders, and that loyalty is designed and programmed into leaders to flow downhill to subordinates to protect them from fool-hardy initiatives of  idiot managers hired in usually as cronies making a name for themselves with risky "intrepreneurial" initiatives that tend to shutter divisions and get people laid off.  It seems in short supply to find loyalty as a trait among executives today outside of military leadership circles or former military trained leaders (but even there, individuals can become power-crazed egomaniacs who forget their basic leadership training and function). 

Leadership certainly seems to be lacking at ABC because how does any leader maintain that leadership position in their industry with antics like this and not have significant backlash?  Who really wants to work for or buy products from a company that treats employees and people in general this way?


  1. Bill is probably screwed.

    1. You got that right! Might as well try another industry

  2. I don't think he is, but we'll see.

  3. i would have thought the moral of this story would have been "Be thankful for what you have".

    For here we have a story of a broken situation that needn'e have arisen. I only hope that he has the courage to name and shame the ruthless employer. Reputation and Social Media are so important these days don't you think?

  4. Reminds me of "The Ides of March." While loyalty has its limits (criminality), what the heck did Bill expect?