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Why You Should Never Bad-Mouth the Boss

Why You Should Never Badmouth the BossOf all the boneheaded things you can do to shoot yourself in the foot and commit political suicide, the one most likely to get you fired or worse is bad-mouthing the boss.

What could be worse than getting fired?

When your boss finds out - and he will find out - he may opt to do nothing, leaving you to wonder for long, agonizing years why you keep getting passed over for promotions. That is, if he's a conniving and vindictive guy which, as you know, describes a significant number of people.

Either way, it's all-too-easy to let your frustration get the better of you at an inappropriate time, like when you're having a few drinks with coworkers. That's exactly what happened with Joe Lacher who, until recently, was president of Allstate's home and auto insurance units.

Company executives were apparently hanging out at the hotel bar after CEO Tom Wilson announced major cuts to the sales force and a restructuring of the commission plan during an annual meeting.

To say the least, the news wasn't very popular with the troops, who were pounding a few and letting off some steam. According to the Wall Street Journal, Lacher chimed in, calling Wilson - his direct boss - a "f---ing a----."

Well, the remark spread around the event like juicy gossip always does, and a couple of weeks later - probably after Wilson consulted with the board - Lacher was gone "effective immediately," according to a terse press release.

Never mind that the guy was brought in with great fanfare not too long ago to turn around the company's core insurance businesses, which have been under competitive pressure from State Farm, Geico, and Progressive.

Of course, there's more to the saga than meets the eye. There always is. Apparently, neither executive was happy with the other: Wilson was down on Lacher's turnaround efforts while the latter felt constrained. So the incident and subsequent termination were probably the last straw for both guys.

Still, I would argue that trashing the boss - to his face or behind his back - will always end badly.

In What They Don't Teach You in Harvard Business School, Mark McCormack describes a situation where an employee got into a heated exchange with his boss and got himself fired. His boss may have been wrong, but when the dust settled, "... his boss still had a job," writes McCormack. So true.

I used to work for a famously abusive CEO who finally got axed by the board after more or less running the company into the ground. Soon thereafter, over a glass of wine, one of my managers, who'd witnessed the CEO rip me apart once or twice, asked why I never uttered a bad word about the guy.

I said, as a corporate officer, I didn't feel it was right to bad-mouth the CEO to anyone, let alone my staff. Also, I loved the company and my job and didn't want lose it.

Of course, I could have gone a little further and explained how, before I read McCormack's book, I was guilty of making that cardinal mistake - I hate to admit this - more than once. And you know what? It always ended badly and it was never worth it.

Ever since, these words have essentially been carved into my brain: If you go head-to-head with the boss, you'll lose. Face-to-face, behind his back, in public, in private, doesn't matter. It's all bad.

On the lighter side, another story comes to mind, this one from the movie Jagged Edge. There's an exchange between attorney Teddy Barnes - played by Glenn Close - and her chronically potty-mouthed investigator, Sam Ransom:

Teddy: What do you think?

Sam: What the f--- do I know?

Teddy: Did your mother ever wash your mouth out with soap and water?

Sam: Yeah. But it didn't do any f---ing good.

I learned my lesson, if only after a lot of pain. But you know, some people never do.

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Image: xmacex via Flickr
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