The Asshole CIO

The No Asshole Rule

This is based on a true story…its long but worth it…I hope.

As long as Little Johnny could remember, he wanted to be ‘the boss’.

He came from a long line of bosses.  His Dad was an important boss.  His grandfather was too.  In fact, his grandfather was fairly well known in some circles as a boss.

Little Johnny went to school and got a degree.  He started his career like most did back in those days…working for one of the blue chip companies.  He was going to be a company man like his father and grandfather before him.  And he was going to be ‘the boss’.

Little Johnny, who I guess I should call John now since he isn’t so little anymore, spent a few years working for the Fortune 500 company working within the information systems group.  He learned his lessons and was promoted to a managerial role within a few years.

John was feeling great…he was now ‘A’ boss…but not ‘THE’ boss.  He still had a long way to go.

From ‘A’ boss to “THE’ boss

John was happy to be a manager but he had his sights set on being THE boss.  His goal was to first become a VP and then move from there into the role he was striving for – the role of the CIO.

To John, the CIO was the ideal role for him and was his goal.  The role would allow him to be THE boss in IT and would, perhaps, allow him to stretch into a CEO role in the future.  But for now, he was focused on the CIO role.

To get to the CIO role, he knew he’d have to have a lot of experience in different areas of IT and business.  He also knew he’d have to be tough. He’d have to be  a tough negotiator, tough on his people and tough with vendors.   Toughness goes hand-in-hand with being ‘the boss’.

With that in mind, John set out to claw his way up to the CIO role.

John set out some goals for himself.  In 5 years, he planned to be a VP. In 10 years, CIO of a mid-sized organization.  In 15 years, he planned to be the CIO of a large company, perhaps the very blue chip company where he worked.

Climbing the ladder

With this plan and goals in mind, John worked hard.  He politicked.  He cajoled.  He threatened.  He did anything & everything he could to climb the ladder to success.

John became known as tough guy.   He never accepted no for an answer and rarely accepted yes too…if you told him ‘yes’, his expectations were that whatever you said ‘yes’ to would be done quickly and cheaply.

He became a hard nosed task master to those people that worked for him.  He didn’t necessarily care if the tasks were done right…he just wanted them done.  And he wanted them done as cheaply as possible.

John drove his team mercilessly and he became known as someone that could get anything done.  If you needed something done in IT, you went to John because you knew he’d do whatever it took to accomplish it.  He’d stab someone in the back (figuratively, of course). He’d lie anytime it suited his needs.  He’d cheat too.  Whatever it took to climb the ladder.

To get a lot of his work done quickly, John had to turn to outsourced workers and vendors.   He hated this though…he hated vendors with a passion.  Hated them. He even boasted about it claiming to the worlds worst customer.

He hated vendors and told them that on a regular basis…but yet many vendors would do anything to get John’s business.

John became despised by his team and most of the organization, but he was tolerated because he got the job done.  Never-mind the fact that most things weren’t completed correctly…they were just completed.  And John’s bosses couldn’t tell that he was getting things ‘done’ rather ‘done right’.

John quickly moved up the ranks.  His goal of becoming a VP in 5 years was achieved.  He’d been quickly promoted up the ladder into a VP role because of his uncanny ability to get anything done under budget and within schedule.

The politicking and ‘asshole-ish-ness’ (a new word I think) continued for a few more years.  John decided it was time to move on and start working towards moving into that CIO role that he coveted.

Finally….he gets to be THE boss.

Caution Raised Assholes Ahead By Prehensile Eye on flickr

Caution Raised Assholes Ahead By Prehensile Eye on flickr

John put his feelers out to many of his vendors and colleagues.  Secretly, these people disliked (perhaps even hated) John, but they thought he’d be a good CIO…not because he’d be a good CIO…but because they could make money from him once in the role.

John quickly found himself with a few offers for CIO roles in companies large and small.  He studied the opportunities briefly and quickly chose the one offering the larger salary and benefits package.

After accepting the offer, he was ecstatic.  He was now the CIO of a large organization….a company much larger than the one he expected to have landed at for his first CIO gig.  He’d blown past his 2nd goal and was well onto the 3rd goal.

John was set now. He was going to be rolling in the dough now.  AND…he’d finally get to be THE boss.

John’s first year on the job was a productive one.  He accomplished a ton of projects.  The CEO of the company told him he’d done more in that one year than the previous CIO had been able to get done in his five years on the job.

John was loving life. He had a team of 300 IT professionals working for him spread around the world.  He had more than 100 vendors, consultants and contracting companies  lined up to do project work for him.  He was set.

Never-mind that none of those 300 IT professionals were happy. Never-mind that the vendors and consultants were barely marking a profit on the project work they did. Never-mind that John’s “get it done at all costs” attitude was driving the IT shop and people into the ground.  Few in IT were happy.  Heck…few outside of IT were happy to have to deal with anyone in IT either.

Neither John nor the leadership team cared to hear about these issues….at least during the good times.  Sure the IT team had a revolving door and it was rare to have someone new stay on board for more than 2 years. John didn’t really care…those people that couldn’t take the pressure could leave.  He had his core team of people who’d been there 10 years or more and they weren’t leaving anytime soon. What he didn’t know (or perhaps knew but didn’t care about) was that the folks that were long-term employees were basically stuck due to retirement plans and their inability to keep their skills sharp and up-to-date.

While John was kicking off his biggest project to date, the economy started tanking.  And it tanked hard.

Being THE boss…in bad times

The economic troubles hit John hard.  He was forced to layoff some staff.  His vendors were laying off staff…if not closing up shop completely.

It dawned on John that with the economy in such a bad state, he could push the remaining staff, vendors and consultants as hard (or harder) than before because they needed his projects more than ever.

John pushed and pushed.  He forced vendors to take projects for far less money than they used to. He forced staff to work harder and for longer hours.

But…John’s projects weren’t getting done and people were noticing.  The organization started noticing that their IT projects were falling behind.  They were also noticing it was getting more difficult to get anything out of the IT group.

John started feeling the pressure from the other senior leaders in the company.  He argued that his vendors were letting him down. He denigrated his staff.   He placed blame everywhere he could, except for himself.

John responded by pushing his team harder.  He began to call daily meetings for all his project teams.  He would scream at his project managers.  He’d scream at his IT managers.  He’d scream at everyone he could find.

John’s vendors and consultants were getting fed up.  They tried talking to John to see if he would understand that they couldn’t work under John’s current approach.  After months of being treated poorly, many started walking out the door.

John screamed. He threatened. He cajoled.  And he failed.

After 6 months of not getting anything done, John was asked to resign as the CIO.

No boss at all

John was devastated.  He couldn’t understand what happened…he was doing his job as CIO.  He was doing everything that he’d always done.  He’d always been successful by being tough…but it didn’t work this time.

After leaving, John started emailing and calling his old colleagues and vendors asking for referrals and leads for openings.  How many responses did he receive to his more than 200 emails / phone calls?  Zero.

He networked. He called. He emailed.  He was relentless in his pursuit of leads and referalls for a new CIO role but he got nowhere.

One morning, he heard that the CIO he’d worked for at the Blue Chip was retiring.  He knew he’d have a chance to replace him…so he set up a time to meet with the CEO of the Blue Chip to discuss the role.

The day of the meeting saw John sitting in a conference room with the CEO, COO, CFO and a few senior VP’s from IT.  He was excited.  This was it…he was going to get the CIO role that he always wanted.  The previous CIO experience was just a roadbump on the way to ultimate success.

The meeting started with handshakes and coffee.  Then John decided to jump right into it.

He started selling himself.  He talked for an hour about his experience and his successes.  He talked about all the things that he was able to accomplish for the Blue Chip and for the other organization.

John…the asshole

When John was done talking, the CEO spoke up.

‘He proceeded to destroy John’s hopes.

He told John that all the ‘successes’ that he’d just spent an hour talking about had to be reworked over the last few years.  The systems built by John and his team had major flaws throughout them and had been rebuilt.  He told him that the IT staff that worked for John had celebrated when he left.

The CEO then surprised John when he told him that he’d talked to a few folks who’d worked with him as CIO in his previous company.  To a person, they’d all said John had been a disaster. Every project undertaken by John had to be reworked there as well.

John was incredulous.  He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  John was pissed.

He struck out at the folks in the room.  He placed blame on others.  He placed blame on everyone who’d ever worked for or with him. He  placed blame on everyone in the room.  He ranted and raved.

The CEO interrupted John’s tirade and said something that John couldn’t really believe. He said:

John…you’re an asshole.  Always have been and always will be.  It was a mistake to promote you here and obviously a mistake that you got that CIO role.  You’re an asshole and until you realize that and confront it, you’ll never have another good job again.

John was an asshole.  Everyone that worked for him learned this instantly.  Most people that worked with him realized it quickly.  And finally, John started to realize it too.

John made it to the CIO role. He’d met his goals. But he’d been an asshole doing it.

Don’t be an asshole CIO…or an asshole in general.  Pick up Bob Sutton’s The No Asshole Rule and learn more about becoming less of an asshole yourself.

Oh…and about John.  He’s now working temporary project work as a project manager.  He’s done OK for himself but rumor has it that he hasn’t learned much from his mistakes.  Last I saw him, he was the same asshole he was when I worked for him.

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  • http://beingcheryl.com Cheryl Harrison

    I know about 5 of this guy! The CEO’s response had me smiling. Thanks for sharing this story, Eric :)

    • http://ericbrown.com Eric D. Brown

      Welcome Cheryl. I think we’ve all met folks like this. The CEO was a standup guy for sure. I got to hear the response directly from his mouth…i loved it :)

  • Kacy

    Nice one, good story.

    • http://ericbrown.com Eric D. Brown

      Thanks Kacy.

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  • http://garydrumm.blogspot.com Gary Drumm

    Wow Eric! You hit the nail right on the head with this article. How many times in my career have I met “John”? Too many, I’m sure. How many times have I been “John”? That’s a far more frightening question. I would hope the answer from my former team members would be “not many”.

    The No Asshole Rule is a great book, and I actually recommend it to people on a regular basis. Good stuff man. You’re an inspiration to us all. :)

    • http://ericbrown.com Eric D. Brown

      Hi Gary – thanks for stopping by and for the comment (and for the subsequent sharing of this article on twitter).

      We’ve all known “John” and at times, I’m sure we’ve all taken on aspects of “John” in our career. I know I have, but thankfully I’ve had people around me that would slap me (literally of course) and bring me back to reality. :)

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