The Portland Trail Blazers on Dec. 3 ended the nine-year tyranny of Neil Olshey, basketball operations president. Let this be a watershed moment in a next Me-Too movement, in which executives are held publicly accountable for the rampant abuse of situational authority and their subordinates.
The abuse of power in the workplace has for decades been like bad coffee — simply something that comes with the territory. In Portland and beyond, company boards, venture capitalists and others have routinely given a pass to abusive executives, cloaking their hostility in sanitized language such as "passionate" or "strong" leadership. It is not strong leadership; it is weakness masquerading as strength. It is violence.
Like many of you, I've had a front-row seat to this movie. I've seen the damage it has done to close friends and family, and I've been on the receiving end myself.
I was a vice president with a Portland company run by an emotionally dysregulated chief executive officer who once held a meeting in which he screamed at his assembled leadership team of about 15. In a fit of rage, with veins bulging from his throat, face, and forehead he yelled, "We are at WAR!" and, "None of you have accomplished ANYTHING in your careers!" He was livid because after six months of grueling 70-hour workweeks, people didn't come into the office over Labor Day weekend. His outburst was not an aberration. Berating people whose livelihoods depended upon him was his normal.
Women are perpetrators as well. I witnessed a CEO who routinely screamed, swore at and threatened her senior managers. I saw her berate a 40-year-old executive as "a kid" and screaming, "You either don't know what the f*** you're talking about or you're full of s***!" Ironically this was in a mental health company.
Both of these executives routinely fired senior executives, one every month or two, as if the public executions would somehow build organizational commitment and momentum. In both cases, the investors and boards knew what was going on, while they banked these executives who destroyed their companies and burned millions of invested dollars.
Over decades past many of us have witnessed resignation and acceptance in other areas of social life while widespread trauma was being inflicted — and then something changed. Catholic priests molesting children, men sexually harassing and abusing women, police officers brutalizing and killing innocent and unarmed people. Tragically none of these were that far out of the ordinary. Then at some point, enough becomes enough, and someone with courage says, "Hell no."
A newspaper in Boston pulls back the curtain on sexual molestation by Catholic priests. A woman with a cell phone video records a cop murdering an unarmed Black man. An organic movement by women takes shape and takes down some of the most powerful men in entertainment, business and government.
That point for the Portland Trailblazers came this month after a law firm's investigation into Olshey and his reported bullying. It is time for everyone, everywhere — including in the business press — to take seriously the widespread abuse of workplace authority and see it for what it is — violence. Hopefully a decade from now much of the abuse of situational executive authority will have been scrubbed from the system by the next Me-Too movement shining a bright light on it and declaring, "This will not stand."
Author Kevin Renner of Portland is a software executive and former business journalist. He is working on a book titled, "Bosses Who Destroy Your Soul, and the Companies They Take Down With Them."
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