A Public ‘Hanging’ at Work

Authenticity Management Respect


Key Point: Tim Armstrong, the CEO of AOL and one of their subsidiaries called Patch, recently and very publicly fired his Creative Director, with about 1,000 associates on a conference call witnessing the dismissal (listen here). Without fully understanding the details, one fact is clear: Armstrong lost his “cool,” emotions took over and he reacted. Someone recorded the conversation, and social media juiced up the story from there. Armstrong, who was widely thrashed for this outburst and the phone firing, has since apologized but everyone involved would have liked a “re-do.”

I was the CEO of a company and was invited to join a conference call involving executives from several partners and a couple of our sales associates. We were preparing for an important customer meeting. My crazy schedule that day had me dial in late and the participants were in full debate when I jumped on the call, so I didn’t want to interrupt the conversation by announcing myself. No one noticed that I had joined. During the ensuing conversation they suggested that time was going to be a premium with the customer during this upcoming meeting, and each partner CEO would ideally make only a one or two minute introduction.

At that point, one of my team members went on to assert his “leadership” on the phone by describing how this brevity might be a problem for HIS long-winded CEO (which of course was ME). I was so tempted to let him continue but decided to stop him before he went too far and I had no choice but to fire him on the phone. So I quickly interrupted: “Excuse me, Dale (not his real name)… I am on the line. You may want to stop before you compliment me on my oratory skills much further.”

Well, the following silence was so audible you could hear the fizz on the phone line. After an awkward moment, we moved the conversation to next steps and the meeting concluded with a constructive game plan. At the conclusion of the call, I asked if my team would stay on while the partners excused themselves (They soooo wanted to listen in though, haha).

My comment, after a moment of anticipation: “Dale… I am not sure what your motive was in front of partners and other associates to criticize my ability to be concise, but I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you got caught up in the moment. However, if I ever hear you being publicly or privately disrespectful instead having the integrity to address the matter face-to-face with me, or the person you are criticizing, I am going to unceremoniously fire you. Do you understand me?” He of course apologized and the call adjourned with a constructive game plan: Did I do the right thing? (I did follow up with this person face to face to discuss the consequences of his behavior). Btw… I CAN be long winded sometimes :).

Character Moves:

  1. Acting purely in our emotional state (except when facing immediate physical danger) often involves behavior we regret.
  2. When our EQ (Emotional Quotient) or SQ (Spiritual Quotient) is at its best, the following nine-step process as described by my brilliant friend, Cindy Wigglesworth, is a wise operating model to follow: “Step A: STOP. Step B: BREATHE. Step C: ASK for help. Step D: OBSERVE yourself. Step E: IDENTIFY and embrace ego-concerns. Step F: LOOK DEEPLY for root causes of ego-concerns. Step G: REFRAME the situation—see with new eyes. Step H: FOCUS on something to be grateful for. Step I: CHOOSE a spiritually intelligent response.”
  3. I am not sure my response in the above situation meets the test of all nine steps, but I’m glad I did not let my ego and emotion rule the moment. This nine-step process takes exceptional self-awareness and practice, practice, practice.

High SQ in The Triangle,