In boardroom battles a full frontal assault is rare as it is in your average team meeting. It’s not the person having a stand up row with you that you need to worry about. The plotters and schemers tend to do their whispering in dark corners and behind closed doors. You may never know the name of your assassin. I never knew mine.
‘I was on friendly terms with the chair. I thought the time was right for asserting myself, so I did not hold back my views’
Did I see it coming? No; not until it was too late. Were the warning signs there? Yes; with hindsight they were, but I didn’t recognise them. My main protagonist had recently left, so maybe my guard was down. Maybe I was overconfident. I clearly overestimated the strength of my position and seriously underestimated the extent of someone else’s ambitions.
Restructuring had given me the post I sought and proved I had the support of the chief executive. Or so I thought, after all he appointed me. I was even on friendly terms with the chair. I thought the time was right for asserting myself, so I did not hold back my views.
The meeting with the head of HR to discuss how we would work together went well. I felt pleased that I had been able to make my expectations clear. Looking back on that meeting, it was probably a mistake to say ”the tail should not wag the dog”.
‘The messages all came down to “you’re lucky you don’t have him as your boss”’
However strongly I felt there were unacceptable levels of meddling in operational issues this was not the time to say it. Now I realise that this meeting had probably been arranged to reassure her we could work together and instead I had confirmed her concerns. I also seriously underestimated the influence she had with the chief executive. But she wasn’t the assassin.
This assassination was carried out over a period of months, not one meeting. Things were being said, doubts were being created, people who had little direct contact with me were getting unhelpful messages from someone who worked closely with me. The messages all came down to “you’re lucky you don’t have him as your boss”.
Of course, I knew nothing of this. It was only after I left that I heard that some managers had been concerned at my appointment in the new structure and that this had been fed to the chief executive and the board. Presumably this was why the head of HR wanted a chat.
When the chief executive told me I had no future in the organisation, I was given no reason. I appealed directly to the chair, who was sympathetic but simply said, “It’s just one of those things that happen you need to let it go and move on.” So I did.
What did I learn? I learnt that someone who poses as an ally can be working against you. That people who claim to have no ambitions somehow end up in that senior post they claimed no interest in. That when you think your position is strongest you are at your weakest. That your powerful supporters may abandon you even if they like you.
You don’t have to access NSFW websites on your computer, fiddle your expenses or behave inappropriately at a conference to get the sack. You do, however, have to assume that not everyone wishes you well.