Lessons from Carol Bartz

The unceremonious and poorly executed firing of Carol Bartz last week has pundits and leadership experts debating whether we are entering a new age of transparency in the upper echelons of leadership. While a new age of transparency may be upon us — and indeed would be most welcome — there is no question that Ms. Bartz handled herself poorly on several fronts.

Lucy Kellaway, of the Financial Times, nails it (ft.com). She says that the incident confirmed at least four of her firmly held prejudices about life, work, and language. In particular,

The third principle is that honesty can be a poor strategy, especially at work. Corporate life is based on a system of deals, and observing these is generally a better idea than speaking your mind. The deal with being CEO is that you get paid a lot to do the job, but if things don’t go well, you get fired. When that happens, the deal is that you keep your mouth shut and your purse open to receive a gi-normous pay-off. You don’t tell a journalist that your former board colleagues were “doofuses”. To do so might be honest, but it is also undignified and undermines the whole system.

I would add that getting fired should never come as a surprise, and never by telephone. As an executive I would advise her to build much stronger relationships with her board. If she wasn’t working out — wasn’t a good fit, or wasn’t producing satisfactory results — she should have reached this conclusion mutually with her board over a period of time. These are the people to whom she is accountable. Regardless of her personal assessment of their competency, She did not manage that accountability well. She simply wasn’t “managing up.”

The entire article by Lucy Kellaway is a great read. Highly recommended.

CareerManagement Leadership

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