The stage had been set for a while. Louise had noticed the signs of impending doom from the beginning – the loose alliances solidifying, the subtle isolation of a “problem” player, the cautious glances and whispers behind his back. A figurative knife had suddenly appeared and was looming overhead, desperately seeking a target. The air around the office became threatening. She could almost see knife and feel the edge of its blade pressing against her back. The time to pick a side had arrived.
Louise had understood the rationale. There were only eight leaders of this small but mighty company. Seven had always agreed but a rouge in their midst was creating havoc. They could not move forward as a cohesive whole with a veritable fly in the ointment. Did the rouge have good ideas, a keen business mind and a knack for predicting the future? Certainly, but he wanted – rather he demanded – that the company veer into unchartered waters. It was a bold and original path that was fraught with risk. In many ways, Louise and at least one other senior manager thought the strategy was exciting to consider. To blast out of their comfort zone and land on distant shores! Could they let go of who they were to become something new? Would they succeed or fail? No matter, there was no time left for debate. Aggressively arguing for a bold new path left the rogue battered and nearly friendless. Blood was in the water and the sharks were circling. It was time to act.
The end came quickly and gracefully enough to the untrained eye. A surprise retirement, a sudden move across the country, a desire to spend more time with family, whatever the reason, it didn’t really matter. Simply put, the explanation just had to be plausible enough to leave the reputations of remaining leaders intact. This rouge was popular you see. A whiff of scandal or rumors of a forced departure could lead to dissension among the ranks. No need for anyone to look bad. Difficult decisions in the best interests of the company had to be made, at least according to the architects behind the rogue’s dismissal.
All sides were cordial as the problematic rogue was quickly and surgically removed. The rank and file were seemingly pleased for him, providing well-meaning and hearty, but ultimately inappropriate, congratulations. The fallen leader took it in stride. A seasoned industry veteran, he had seen it all before. Beneath the seemingly genuine smiles and the well wishes of the remaining management team Louise could smell the rot just below the surface. The rogue’s ideas had been good, had they not? Just why weren’t they ever seriously considered? Was it due to comfort and complacency? Fear of the unknown? Or was it all simply a popularity contest? Louise felt her loyalty and perspective begin to shift unexpectedly. She realized she would have to be very careful expressing her opinions in the future or risk suffering a similar fate.
Despite the unpleasantness, a time of peace and prosperity followed the rogue’s departure. Perhaps the sacrifice had indeed been necessary. Problem removed, management was now a well-oiled machine moving forward with a unified vision and on solid ground. Solid, at least, until an inevitable business crisis arose. One in which there was no agreement on how to best address. One in which the rogue had predicted, though that fact went flagrantly, rather defiantly, ignored. As time marched on the crisis intensified and the previously unshakable alliance of the seven began to disintegrate in its wake.
Several power plays erupted amongst the management team. No obvious victor emerged so new alliances were sought. Infighting became the order of the day – tongues wagging and fingers pointing as to where to lay blame. Arguments were made, more and more whispers came from behind closed doors. The knife reappeared, thirsty for new blood. But who would go this time? Who had the best claim to stay and lead?
Political maneuvering took on a life of its own as more of the company became entangled in a battle not just for survival but dominance. Innocents, who were simply trying to keep the company afloat, became embroiled in a fight not of their making. Some left in disgust, others were fired for insubordination. Even more hunkered down and did what they were told, trying desperately to stay out of the fray. The real and consequential problems of the company went unresolved for months. Louise knew that soon she would yet again have to choose a side, all the while knowing that she could escape the crosshairs only for so long. Eventually, like so many reputable people before her, the knife would be aimed squarely at her.
Not long after, and somewhere far removed from this swirling vortex of toxic corporate theatre, a distinguished gentleman sat enjoying a cup of coffee while watching his young grandchildren frolicking on the pristine white sands of a tropical beach. Beside him lay an open copy of The Wall Street Journal. Earlier that morning, he came across an article that that detailed the spectacular collapse of his former company. Exactly how he felt about his development could not be discerned from his expression. Was there any regret that his vision had been ignored? Satisfaction of the failure hastened by his departure? Sadness for those many good employees, some of whom he counted among his friends, who lost their jobs? It was impossible to tell. One could only observe as he quietly folded his paper, put down his coffee and eagerly joined his family as they raced joyfully towards the ocean.