Some Things Never Change

Some Things Never Change

Post from: MAPpingCompanySuccess

Most everyone who is at all involved with tech is aware that Tom Preston-Werner, founder and former CEO of GitHub, resigned over harassment charges; the complaints included actions by his wife, Theresa Preston-Werner.

In short, people felt pressured by her to contribute time/energy/knowledge pro bono to her own startup.

While they were cleared in the investigation, Theresa posted an apology that included the following.

I was the wife of the CEO, but that never entered my mind when I hung out with any GitHubbers.

That blind spot was my mistake. In my enthusiasm over my project, and my idealistic belief in the status-free community of GitHub, I failed to recognize that power structures cannot ever be obscured entirely. It’s a powerful lesson, and a mistake I will not repeat.

What the Preston-Werners learned the hard way is that bosses aren’t like the rest of us and the higher you are on the totem pole the more weight your words carry.

The following post dates to 2006, but it’s just as true now as then and I seriously doubt it will change in the future.

For Bosses, No Such Thing as “Casual”

Bosses can’t make casual comments because nothing is casual when it’s coming from “the boss.” In fact, “casual comment” in juxtaposition with “boss” is positively oxymoronic!

This is especially true when the boss in question is the CEO/president/owner. Quick story:

A CEO, who started as an engineer, casually remarked to a group of designers that he didn’t think the circuit design they were doing would work.

He said this while taking a shortcut though the department, and with no in-depth knowledge of the project or previous discussions. Just an off-the-cuff comment based on his own design experience—which was a couple of decades old.

The design group then told the engineering VP that they needed to rethink the entire design because the CEO had said it wouldn’t work.

The engineering VP first convinced her team that the design was fine and to go ahead (not an easy sell); she then told her boss (the CEO) to quit talking to the engineers and stay out of the department, since this wasn’t the first time this had happened.

The CEO agreed, although he couldn’t understand the problem, all he’d made was a casual comment. Obviously, he couldn’t know as much as the design team since he’s been out of engineering for many years and they should have understood that.

Stories such as this happen in every industry, every day. The unusual parts here are that, one, the VP said something and, two, the CEO actually listened.

The no casual comment rule applies at all levels in any company. If you have leverage, your comments carry weight to those below you—the more leverage, the more weight.

I hope bosses everywhere take this to heart, since few underlings are comfortable telling the person who can fire them to, essentially, shut up.

Flickr image credit: GDS Productions

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