Q: Four months ago I was on top of the world. My business had just been bought by a Chicago based corporation, giving me enough money to retire for life and my small business the capital infusion it needed to really grow.
The buy/sell agreement obligates me to full-time work for two years and specifies who I report to -- Jeff, an impressive, charismatic manager. I immediately received 60 percent of the purchase price, however, I only receive the remainder if my business unit hits certain profit projections. Also, while I'm bound to the corporation, they can terminate me if I don't fulfill my obligations.
Although I heard Jeff had a reputation for ruthlessness, I immediately liked him. He was charming and had a results-oriented way of cutting to the chase that led me to think I could trust him because he was so upfront with his criticism.
I soon found otherwise. Although Jeff clearly knows how to woo senior corporate management and has alliances among the support staff who each seem to feel he is grooming them for great things, he one ups me every chance he gets. He poisoned relationships with some of my key clients, resulting in a severe loss in the revenue my business unit now brings into the corporation. Despite the fact that Jeff created these losses, senior managers hold me responsible because Jeff threw me under the bus when the problems got discussed.
I'm worried and don't know how to handle this. Should I have a heart to heart with Jeff?
A: Be careful. You can't have a heart to heart with someone who doesn't have a heart. You currently skate on thin ice and can't afford a misstep.
You need to assess each aspect of this situation. What does senior management expect out of you and what do you need to show them to prove your worth? How much do you contribute to this situation? Before you ran your own business and called the shots -- when you entered a corporation and received a capital infusion, you leaped into a bigger league -- are you in over your head? Most importantly, what motivates Jeff?
Clearly, if you want to fund your retirement, your business unit needs to meet profit projections and you need to detail how your efforts contribute to those profits. You also need to realize where you now fall short of what you need for success in this new environment -- and gain those skills pronto.
Most importantly, you need to figure out Jeff. Jeff appears either a type "A" cutthroat personality or a corporate psychopath. If the former, you need to play your "A" game. If the latter, you need protection.
Although most of us think of psychopaths as crazy people or serial killers, some "snakes in suits" work in senior management positions. Few of us recognize psychopaths because we can't believe they exist, until, like Bernie Madoff, they're unveiled.
Workplace psychopaths play head games with others and make good money doing so. They lack empathy, excel at engineering situations for their own gain and don't mind taking risks with others' money or reputation. Corporate psychopaths lie without remorse and adroitly transfer blame for their mistakes to others. Psychopaths turn on the charm to those in power and those they can use -- and trample on others.
If "snake in suit" fits Jeff, don't expect him to play by normal rules. You need to watch your back and watch him so you can learn his moves. You need to strategically assess what you need to do to create success -- for example, connecting so well with each of your major clients so you don't lose another. Above all, make sure Jeff isn't your only conduit to senior management. Forewarned is forearmed.
-- Lynne Curry is a management trainer, consultant and president of Alaska's The Growth Company Inc. in Anchorage. Email her at lynne@thegrowth company.net