Have you ever  had one of those jobs where you wake up in the middle of the night with a nose bleed from stress?   I have. It’ scary.  Ever had one of those jobs where you start getting sick to your stomach on Sunday night thinking about the week ahead? I have. Stomach problems would ruin half of my weekend.

Ever have a boss you disliked so much that just the sound of his or her voice weakened your will live?  I have. Thankfully, I managed to make it through, and here’s what I learned from my experience.

1. Rot starts at the top.


Like the old-man’s eye in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, the CEO’s high pitched chuckle, always unleashed at the most inappropriate times, nearly drove me to madness. However, that wasn’t the worst part of working for this individual. The worst part was that this CEO was fundamentally incapable of ever taking any responsibility for anything that went wrong. This CEO would make ridiculous, unrealistic promises to clients and then blame staff members when those promises proved impossible to keep.

An inability to ever assume any accountability is a character flaw. Character flaws at the top doom an organization. If a CEO will not take accountability for promises that could have never been kept, it means he or she will feel free to tell clients or customers whatever they want to hear, because he or she will always blame someone else when things don’t work out.

Which brings me to my second point.

2. Don’t tell a customer or client anything they want to hear in order to get business.

This company grew very, very rapidly prior to me joining the executive staff. Most of that growth was attributable to snagging one really, really big client. Once I was on staff it became clear that we didn’t have the staff and resources we needed to support this client.

So how did we get that client in the first place?

I found out that we faked it. The CEO had rented a larger office for a day and had his children make artwork that was then hung in some of the empty offices, making them look occupied when the client visited for the pitch.

It worked, until he actually had to meet the client’s expectations and fulfill the contract. From that day forward it was an unmitigated disaster.

I learned that you have to be willing to grow the right way. You have to be willing to pass on an opportunity if you can’t meet client or customer expectations.

3. Don’t be a raccoon.


I remember the early days of cell phones. Incentives were heaped on new customers, but as soon as you were an existing customer you were forgotten (at best). Once you were in the tent your light dimmed a little, and the company was off chasing the new, shiny, undimmed customer.

As a business we were an organizational raccoon. We were always in pursuit of the new, shiny object.

I remember one incident in particular. A client was demanding that we produce a deliverable that we were months behind on completing. This project required the input of the CEO. When I called him he told me that he couldn’t get to it, because he was preparing a proposal for another client. This new client would have paid us a fee that was roughly 3% of the fee we received from the neglected client. It was insanity, and completely devoid of basic business sense.

Then again, raccoons are not known for their business acumen.

4. A lack of basic decency prevents basic success.

The biggest problem we faced was a lack of basic decency at the very top. It was the root cause of every other problem. If there is a lack of accountability and decency at the top an organization is doomed. You can have a talented staff and invest in all of the systems and structure you want, and it won’t matter.

If you work in an organization like this, start updating your LinkedIn profile immediately. For me, this experience pushed me to start my own business. I never again wanted to put my fate in the hands of someone else.

Whatever you do, if you work in an organization like this, get out as soon as you can. Life is too short to wake up to blood on your pillow.


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