Is Pride the Worst Thing You Can Have?

Of all the faults I see in people, I think that pride is the most damaging.

I am a small business owner and am pretty close with all of my employees. I have had many employees for decades, and a few for just a short while. It seems that whenever there is a major problem with an employee it all boils down to pride. They can call it other things and make excuses, but the main issue tends to be an utter lack of humility.

Just this morning a new employee who had only been on the job for a few months raised his voice at me. I told him that I don’t yell and scream but would be glad to have an adult like discussion. He continued with the loud voice and I was forced to fire him. He had been looking for a job for close to a year when I hired him and just like that he is gone. I am sure it will take a long time for him to find another job. What in blazes was he thinking?

Only a few hours after his departure word spread and I have been deluged with phone calls and emails of people looking for work. I have never seen anything like it. Nuclear engineers to kids right out of high school. But I digress.

This particular individual showed traits that, it seems, more people are showing. Instead of shutting up this morning and saying “yes, sir” or simply being quiet as I asked, my ex-employee had to keep mouthing off. Of course, my evidence of an increase of pride and lack of humility is completely anecdotal to my little world.

I have seen this in many business acquaintances as well as vendors and customers. I have learned that in my world, to shut up and take it is the best prescription, unless you really want to burn your bridge.

To our commenters – do people of this generation or people in general seem to show more pride in today’s era than in past eras? Or do you think I am noticing something that isn’t there?

59 thoughts on “Is Pride the Worst Thing You Can Have?”

  1. Pride is the greatest of all sins, at the foundation of all the rest. It is the most destructive vice. Satan himself committed a sin of pride.

    Humility is a very demanding virtue.

    If you have no religious formation, you may not even know you are supposed to have it, and struggle for it.

    We all need to fight it.

  2. Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble
    when you’re perfect in every way.
    I can’t wait to look in the mirror
    cause I get better looking each day.
    (Mac Davis)

    Perhaps it’s not humility, but a lack of self-control. I’m thinking that there may be many more around who are incapable of thinking ‘Perhaps it might be a better idea to hold my tongue.’ There are times when it is better to just suck it up and keep your mouth shut.

  3. In my experience it is an inflated sense of entitlement that is learned from a very young age. When the schools preach that each child is wonderful and unique and special, then why should that child follow the rules and plug away until he becomes successful?

  4. I think that spitting on the sidewalk is the “worst thing you can have.”

    Coming into work at the “U” yesterday, a young man on his way to the motorscooter parking spit up a loogie right along the path he was walking. I guess I was prideful for taking offense at this and calling out a snarky, “Great!”

    He “set me straight” by giving me a good, solid hostile stare as he mounted his scooter. I was wearing my campus authority-figure uniform of a sport jacket and my campus ID tag on a band around my neck, and if anybody needed a good, solid hostile stare it was me, for attempting to play the role of a campus authority figure.

    I guess spittle on the sidewalk is not really the worst thing and I should be less offended by it and ignore it, but it seems to be everywhere, and when the weather turns towards the freezing mark, walking down the sidewalk on campus turns into a game of hopscotch of not stepping on it.

    Some of this, I believe, is the popularity of “chew” as an alternative to smoking. As a kid I remember the CTA has signs “No Smoking, No Spitting” on buses and El trains, and I never understood the spitting part — until now. The other half is that so many are now chewing and spitting, spitting has become “cool.”

    Here we are at a major public institution of public learning, and the culture we are imparting on our students, directly or indirectly, is how “cool” it is to be uncouth to the point of being digusting. I think it is a combination of “democracy”, not being “square”, and eschewing the scolding demands of campus authority-figure wannabees wearing sport coats and ID cards on a band around the neck. How this uncouth form of cool is going to translate into the white-collar workplace I don’t know — is the sale manager going to circulate a memo to sales agents “Please, no spitting in front of million-dollar plus customers?” Don’t know.

  5. There is a sense of entitlement among the young that may come from all the “self esteem” education they get. They don’t like to be contradicted, let alone corrected. I went to a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant about a year ago for a take out dinner. The store is located in an affluent (or formerly affluent by the foreclosure rate these days) area of Orange County. I paid for my order and gave him some change in addition to bills to pay for the meal. He could not figure out how to calculate the balance. I stood there for 5 minutes and finally left a dollar short. No apology or ask for help from anyone else. It was simple arithmetic.

    Yet, these kids, in jobs dealing with the public insist on calling customers by their first name. It has become popular among young people to use first names for every occasion but one would think a young person might be hesitant to do so with someone obviously older. I even asked a couple of telephone solicitors or customer service people if they are trained to do this and was told they are.

    Since I have moved, I have dealt with a number of telephone types. I moved to a community that does not have home mail delivery. UPS and FedEx will deliver to the home address but not the USPS. I have some sympathy because it is a resort community and only about one in five of the homes are full time residences. As a consequence, we only get our mail by PO Box. I have discovered several companies that will not send mail to a PO box.

    I discovered the other day that my land line telephone (Verizon) had been suspended. I have lived here a month and have never received a bill. Because Verizon is almost the only service up here, I got Verizon cell phone two months ago. That bill comes to the PO Box. Apparently, Verizon won’t send the land line bill to the PO Box. When I call to try to straighten this out, they will not talk to me unless I give them my account number. They will not accept the cell phone account number and I don’t know the other because I have never gotten a bill.

    I got a call yesterday to tell me my Shell payment is 12 days late. Another bill I haven’t gotten due to some mixup in forwarding. Have any of you tried to get a human being on the phone in a large corporation lately ? The last time I got a Shell bill I paid the balance in full and that was July.

    Life seems to be deteriorating a rapid clip. Some of this is a probably a high rate of delinquency as the economy declines. Some of it is just human cussedness. Some is the drive to reduce staff with all these automated voicemail systems that usually do not solve anyone’s problem but the HR department’s at Verizon.

    Dan, If I were you, I would watch my surroundings for a few weeks after firing that employee. My daughter was involved in a situation with a clerical employee whose concept of his job was far higher than reality. He had gotten so obnoxious to the professional staff that she one day went to a supervisor and asked not to be left alone in an isolated place with him alone anymore. The supervisor came down and kept her company until the end of her shift. I told her to take a leave of about six months (It is a large research library and her job was part time) and be careful. He was let go the following week. There have been two murders at Yale in the past two years in similar circumstances. Hourly employees who become excessively impressed with their own status because they deal with young doctoral or postdoc students all the time. The postdocs move on and the technical staff person stays on for years until he thinks he runs the place.

    Sorry to post such a disjointed comment but the topic struck several chords.

  6. I lump a lot under “poor impulse control” – but I do think Lex’s perspective is the right one. You can – if you want to be really. well, worried about the modern state – blame it on Romanticism. Shakespeare & Milton (wel, especially Milton in Satan) knew about pride.

    Sometime in there we began to doubt the importance of humility – though it took two centuries to doubt it as much as we do today. The idea of the “fortunate fall” which I swear I read about eons ago but had trouble finding a mention of lately when I happened upon Judith Sergeant Murray’s essay (she’s an early & fervent advocate of Unitarianism, I guesss) that argues that Eve should be praised because she only wanted knowlege – the knowledge of good & evil – and that she merely wanted to adorn her mind. Ah, yes. To become conscious, to become autonomous. To be self-reliant, Emerson would say a few years later. But our pride is what rends us from our God and from one another, the earlier writers would say. And they had it right – or at least partially so.

    I’ve been cleaning out my old filing cabinet and looking at my papers from the sixties and seventies. There, there is pride personified – and it must have made me a pretty irritating student. We understand the theory of humility as life shows us again and again we have reason to be humble. But, you know, I think making it a habitual and appropriate response is difficult to breed in to our children and is probably even more difficult to teach ourselves. (Being a woman I seldom if ever raised by voice to either my bossses or my workers; on the other hand, a sharp tongue can be as destructive and is less likely to get you fired than looked over for the next promotion.)

    I’d like to point out, however, that much modern religion fails us as well. Those who have entered orders will often say the most difficult task was self-discipline, was the learning of humility. But those are the old line churches. The mainline ones are too busy preaching self-righteously about income distribution and selfless/selfrighteous environmentalism to be bothered with pride – other people’s money is their problem, not recognizing that at the root of that obsession is a coveting pride. Oh, well.

  7. There has been huge emphasis in recent years on “skills” and credentials. Too many people, particularly too many parents, have failed to understand the importance of *meta-skills*, or what used to be called “character.” The employee you’re talking about might have been very good technically at doing whatever task he was supposed to be performing, but that didn’t save him.

    Too many parents intercede for their kids to get grade increased, etc, without considering the impact on meta-skill development.

    Part of the problem is that education has become so abstract. Few parents in 1900, I’d guess, would have wanted the guy teaching their kid to run a steam engine to overlook the fact that he (the kid) is forgetting to check the boiler water level–which can lead to an explosion. But when it comes to algebra or English literature, the cause-and-effect loop is not so obvious.

  8. David – he was a good worker and knew his stuff. The bottom line was he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, control himself when asked to by the one person who matters at my place of business, me. It was an easy decision to let him go as when things like that are revealed early on it actually helps. I would rather he rant on me now, than a customer later on and lose a good account.

  9. C.S. Lewis and many others have argued that Pride is not merely a sin, but the sin, and I believe I agree.

    The reasoning is that any evil I commit is ultimately rooted in the conviction — whether articulated or not — that I am more important than anyone else around me. The love of money is the root of all types of evil, but pride is what turns love of money into covetousness — the willingness to step on or over anyone who comes between me and what I desire.

    The excuses people make for their pride are countless, and often involve dressing it up as some sort of virtue: “Not everyone is comfortable with my level of honesty”, or, “It takes strong leadership to really get things done,” or my personal favorite, “I think I’ve always know that God had a special call on my life.”

    Somehow the practical application of these supposed virtues is inevitably the same: “Do what I want and then get the f**k out of my way.”

    Self centered pride is completely natural and human, but it’s also completely evil.

  10. Guy I used to work with definitely fell in the ‘pride combined with arrogance’ category; he just could not seem to accept that
    He might not be the very best at what he did,
    There were things he could learn from other people, and
    When the boss said “Don’t do it that way”, doing it that way isn’t actually an option.
    Made it hard to work with him, got him chewed out regularly, and he finally left because ‘he wasn’t appreciated’.

    With younger people seems to depend somewhat on their interests, as well; those who actually DO things seem more willing to listen to others; those who don’t actually DO things just don’t seem to understand the concept of “This is how you do it” or “…don’t do it”, or for that matter “You can learn from someone else.” In many cases, at least.

  11. Dan

    I think you did right by getting rid of that employee and you should look at it from a business point of view solely and not feel any remorse about it. You did good to him by firing him, he will never understand that of course, but if he is intelligent he should reflect on the reasons why he lost his job and carry on.

    He may have mastered some good skills necessary or valuable to your business but it is clear he doesn´t have a clue about how to talk business with the people who will get him ahead in business and that is a fatal mistake. His unwise business manners made him lose his job, but if you had kept him you could have put your business at risk.

    Imagine if he one day had talked back proudly to one of your customers like he did to you. Your customer would have to take their business somewhere else and your ex-employee would have cost you a lot more than a bad morning then.

    I believe there´s nothing wrong with pride when it arises from achievements or cultural or family values, as long as it doesn´t interfere with the way we relate to other people and with our success in life and in business. I believe there´s a reason why the lord made us feel pride sometimes.
    But only sometimes..

  12. Glad to see CS Lewis mentioned, and the word “cussedness” (haven’t seen or used that very appropriate word in too long).

    In short Dan you’ve a lot of good answers but at the root we are reaping the rewards of a Godless post-moral culture. In the place of God moral relativism rules the day for most, and to many there simply is no right and wrong (and you know it wouldn’t be fair to ascribe labels, for that would be judging. :)) There is a c-movie called Idiocracy that sums up our destination if things don’t change.)

    Pat Moynihan’s view in his day (80’s) was we are “defining deviancy down,” but today compared to yesterday shows the rapid state of decline. I tend to agree with Michael that many of these folks don’t have enough education to know any better, but there is also a lack of self-examination and self-awareness. As Dalrymple if wont to remind us (lose paraphrase) we have people who are full of self-expression, without saying anything meaningful and no self-examination for how they affect others.

  13. “What in blazes was he thinking?”

    Got me. Did you ask him? Perhaps his daughter was killed yesterday in a car wreck, and he was having trouble emotionally. Perhaps he expected sympathy and consideration for his plight; or some measure of compassion in someone he liked.

    For myself, I believe in self-control, always says “yes” to whatever my supervisor asks, and lying, lying, lying to keep my supervisor happy. Never contradict. Never deliver bad news. Conceal unpleasant facts. Supervisors expect, um, demand, that sort of thing. I never want to be known as an uppity employee.

  14. I’ll give an amen to the self-esteem movement in education. It seems they’ve never had their “superiority” challenged.

    Me – I think Scorcese put it best in Goodfellas…

    “Every once in a while I’d have to take
    a beating. But by then, I didn’t care.

    The way I saw it…

    …everybody takes a beating sometime.”/

  15. I believe there´s nothing wrong with pride when it arises from achievements or cultural or family values….

    There’s a semantic problem here that almost always arise when discussing pride.

    Gratification at ones own achievements or the achievements of others is not Pride in the theological, Seven Deadly Sins sense of the word.

    The key distinction is, do you view Virtue as a preexisting quality to which you and others should conform, or is Goodness defined by your own desires and predispositions? That is, when life does not give you what you want, is reality by definition the party at fault? Is there any circumstance that you will honestly call Bad even if it happens to work to your immediate benefit, or anything that can be truly Good even if you perceive it as a personal misfortune?

    We routinely use the word pride to describe both attitudes, but obviously there’s a critical difference. I’m not sure if the conflation arises because of the ambiguity of the English language, or if the language merely reflects our moral confusion.

    Pride in the second sense is delusional as well as wicked, but it’s no less common for being so. And we often pretend to be exercising the benign type when it’s obvious to everyone around them that we are actually wallowing in Pride in the biblical sense.

    On the other hand, be very careful about praying, “Lord, give me humility.” He has a rather grim track record of answering those kinds of prayers in the affirmative. Much safer to ask for a sports car or a pony or some such.

  16. Setbit, You threaded the eye of the needle wonderfully. And you’re right: asking for humility can make for interesting times. I’ve fallen into the habit of when I pray to ask God to help me to not be stupid. I did as a result of an old buddy saying “always remember how stupid you are”—and I thought about it, concurred, and sought Divine intervention:))) Thanks for your thoughtful post.

  17. Well put, Setbit: I cannot match the intellectual car put into your note. thank you.
    More simplistically, however: people exemplified by the fired employee have been accultured by their family, and peers, and popular culture including our commercial culture to believe “Hey, it’s all about YOU! And you’re GREAT!! Let nobody tell you otherwise—break all those silly rules, and be your own person–because, after all: don’t you DESERVE the best? Why, sure you do!” An easy trap to fall into: first as an innocent child, then as a typically self-absorbed adolescent, and thereafter as a Peter Pan twenty-something. It’s an exceptionally corrosive cultural atmosphere in which to try and raise a child or young adult.

    Once, we had a popular culture that lauded responsibility to society—indeed, it was not so much lauded as expected: no less than adherence to the laws of physics.
    Then, starting perhaps in the 50’s, with the advent of television and increased free time and income, we had the “Rebel Without a Cause”, “Wild Ones” imagery. So appealing in a homogeneous culture, particularly when one had free time to muse about such things because you weren’t worried so much about the crops failing, about pestilence claiming 25% of your siblings, nor having to work 16 hours in a sweat shop.
    Fast forward through the 60’s and 70’s, and thereafter as commercialism cleverly polished the ability to both convince malleable and generally average (after all, most of us are) people that they could be **special**, by wearing the right jeans, or the right aftershave, or having the right cellphone—-just like every other person surrounding that particular consumer.

    Combine this with the ‘self-esteem’ delusion perpetrated by the school system, and fostered by parents uncomfortable with the concept that yes, Johnny really IS pretty average; throw in a dash of moral relativism, and **BAM**—you have a labor pool composed of adolescents disguised as 20somethings, who’ve never been forced to conform to external norms, who’ve been told that they should follow their muse in all things—and behave like something from the last episode of “2 1/2 Men” or whatever dreck they watched last, as they regard this as a realistic representation of life.

    I tell my children over and over that “It’s Not All About You”, and the West Point Code: namely, “Never Lie, Cheat, Steal, nor Tolerate Those Who Do”. I hope a fraction of it sticks in their heads. Would that more New Age parents and schools were a bit more out of date and judgemental: it might, just might, be a slightly better society as a result.

  18. A final postscript, and then I promise: no more War&Peace-length posts.
    People in a workplace can very readily get comfortable. After all, everyone’s been here so long: what could possibly happen?
    I happen to have terminated an employee today. Unfortunate, as she was generally valuable, and liked, but: she broke a basic code of conduct tenet that cannot be compromised in the environment in which we operate professionally. But she’s out, and that’s that.
    I GUARANTEE it will not be repeated by another.
    My Dad, in the early 60’s worked construction during the day, and went to night school for his law degree. All night and into the AM, pigeons would coo outside my parents’ 2d floor window and prevent comfortable sleep. Shooing them was transiently effective at best. Central air was a theoretical dream; open windows were the urban norm. One early AM, he reached out carefully, grabbed the nearest pigeon, wrung its neck, and slammed it back down on the ledge.
    The pigeons understood the intellectual validity of his argument, and congregated elsewhere. The dead pigeon remained there as a daily restatement of his logic.
    Occasionally, organizations require a Pigeon Statement. Mine had one today; so did Dan from Madison. It tends to focus the mind.

  19. Oh, I forgot something pertinent: last year I gave my students an in-class definition exercise; I said they could define pride or humility – vice & virtue. Almost all the papers considered pride the virtue and humility the vice.

  20. “Pride is the crown of all virtues” — Aristotle.

    The sanctimony in this thread is breathtaking (with the exception of The Office). I wasn’t there and neither were you. Dan’s description is rather sketchy and doesn’t even attempt to present the employee’s viewpoint.

    But from what little Dan has said, I think there were two people who showed a “lack of impulse control” in this situation. Are you absolutely sure that firing him was the only solution? By your own admission, “he was a good worker and knew his stuff”. Will you have to replace him? How much time, energy and money will that cost? Will you be able to find comparable skills and abilities at the same cost? Could you have handled it in a different way? Are your employees truly that disposable? How will your other employees react?
    What will their reactions cost you in lost productivity?

    Your pompous moralizing on the sin of pride leads me to believe there was/is an attitude problem on your part. In fact, I tend to think that what offended you the most was that he challenged you in some way. You seem incredulous at his actions. Whose pride is at stake here, his or yours? From what little you’ve said, I tend to think it was your attitude which was the more significant problem. But I would need far more details to reach a conclusion on that.

    I’ve worked for over 30 years in the software industry. I’ve had good bosses and bad bosses. Without question, the best bosses were willing to be challenged, often forcefully, loudly and profanely. I’ve had yelling matches with bosses. I’ve called their ideas “f**king idiotic” and worse. In a (very) few cases, I’ve even stubbornly refused to do what they wanted and instead did it my way (and the results justified doing so). That is risky and I knew I was putting my job on the line, but I was willing to do so because I knew I was right. They were, ultimately, glad I did.

    I’ve never been fired for doing that or for being loud, profane or refusing to shut up. Far from being worried about how I would act in front of customers, my reputation is that of someone who is very good in front of customers, clients and investors. I have helped raise millions of dollars from investors and helped sell million-dollar systems, by explaining the highly technical to the non-technical. I am good at that and I am quite capable of determining when a loud or profane response is appropriate and when it is not.

    I have also been the boss. I’ve been yelled at, told I was a “fool” (and worse) and challenged in any number of ways. I wanted that! I wanted talented, hard-charging, passionate, aggressive engineers. I wanted people who would tell me I was wrong and not just meekly do whatever I said. We produced better software because I had engineers who were willing to aggressively challenge me and my ideas. In my experience, humble engineers produce mediocre products.

    What works on a software engineering team won’t necessarily work anywhere else. Dan, I don’t know what kind of business you are running, I don’t know the full context and it is certainly possible that your actions were justified. But your explanation, so far, seems utterly inadequate to justify your actions. Bosses who have to fall back on the “I’m the boss and I say so” justification are usually not very good.

    To the rest of you in this thread, I sure hope you’re never on a jury. Your willingness to judge and condemn on such meager evidence is appalling.

  21. There are “bosses” and “employees” any more. We’re all “stake-holders”. So you can’t tell me what to do.

    That seems to be the idea, anyway.

  22. I happen to have terminated an employee today. Unfortunate, as she was generally valuable, and liked, but: she broke a basic code of conduct tenet that cannot be compromised in the environment in which we operate professionally. But she’s out, and that’s that.
    I GUARANTEE it will not be repeated by another.

    I wouldn’t be so sure of that. Again, I don’t have the full context, so I can’t judge whether your actions were justified. However, even if they were, firing a well-like employee is always problematic and will have negative repercussions. There will be damage to morale, at the very least. No matter how it is handled, there will be questions such as “Was this a pretext?” and “Am I next?”

    If her conduct was clearly egregious and clearly in violation of a well-understood code of conduct, then you can minimize the damage.

    On the other hand, if her conduct was borderline or the result of poor communication or an unclear code or anything which might be a mitigating factor, then the ramifications can be enormous. I’ve seen entire companies utterly collapse because a single entirely justified termination was not handled well.

    Moreover, are you absolutely sure she was the only employee violating your code of conduct? The boss is almost always the last to know.

    Occasionally, organizations require a Pigeon Statement. Mine had one today; so did Dan from Madison. It tends to focus the mind.

    I suppose this is true, if one is hiring pigeons. I prefer to hire human beings, and they are infinitely more complicated creatures.

  23. Oops, left out a paragraph in my previous post:

    This kind of thing can backfire spectacularly, if it is not handled well. Anger, resentment and spite can trigger more of the very behavior you’re trying to prevent. Fear is a piss-poor motivating factor. And it is always short-lived.

  24. Scott and Tehag bring up interesting points. Interpersonal norms in organizations are very much local affairs. Some of that is random path dependence–early hires happened to establish a certain culture that gets propagated over time–but some of it is adaptation and selection for the specific task environment.

    Andy Grove’s Intel was famous for lots of yelling and fighting; people said that if you didn’t stand up to Grove he would just run you over and lose respect for you. A tone at the company was set, one where arguments were loud and open and rank was not too respected on technical issues. People attributed that to the accident of Grove’s personality, but lo and behold Texas Instruments, without any significant personnel interchange with Intel, simultaneously developed similar norms. Apparently, the chip business, which requires huge financial bets to be made on risky and uncertain technologies over and over again, favors rapid surfacing of technical and economic disputes. And this process seems to naturally involve argumentative behavior.

    That type of culture might not be equally functional in a retail store or a restaurant. But we do know that lots of plane crashes have occurred due to excessive deference of copilots to pilots, so it’s not entirely an isolated example.

  25. Scott – I typically don’t take homework assignments but I will take yours.

    I intentionally kept the post short so as not to bore everyone to tears with every nuance of what happened. If you don’t believe the post as written that is fine, and there is nothing I can do about it.

    To answer your questions:
    Yes. Yes. Probably a few days in total after the interview process – no big deal, I am used to the hours. Yes. Maybe, but I chose not to. I am not sure how to answer that one. Not sure. Not sure.

    I have a business to run. If I choose to warn people a few times that I do not enjoy being shouted at like a sixth grader, but choose to use as my management style talking calmly like adults that is my choice and mine alone. I own the place. Every single thing that happens here is my fault and I accept that. I choose not to have employees that shout at me. I find it hard to believe that your bosses accepted the fact that you yelled at them and called their ideas “F*cking idiotic”. I simply will not have that in my working environment. If others choose to have that sort of thing around and like it that is up to them.

    I asked this particular person several times to calm down and he chose the path of insubordination. That gets you fired each and every time in my business. You can call me pompous for that, I simply call it my managament style. My pride has really nothing to do with any of this. He has his chance(s) to shut up, and chose not to. I chose to rid myself of him.

    The fact that I have many employees that have been with me for decades with zero problems and great productivity and a very few that have had issues with me such as yesterday suggests to me that I run a good business and am a good boss. ymmv.

    Perhaps my ex-employee can get a job at Scott’s firm now or at Intel where his shouting and challenging will be more welcome.

  26. Scott Eudaley,

    You quite rightly present the case for a workplace where dynamic tension between management and labor, coupled with the free — even passionate — exchange of ideas, bears creative fruit to the betterment of the organization.

    I’m not sure that model is applicable for every situation in every workplace. There are times when methods and approaches must be adjusted to ensure that the message isn’t derailed — which is the essence of tact.

    And there are times when the correct response is to shut up and color.

    The ability to discern which of these is appropriate to the situation requires discernment, maturity, and self-control.

    I have periodically failed to exhibit these virtues in the workplace, particularly self-control. It has cost me each time — and rightly so, for each time I have failed I did so because I forgot what my role in the organization was, whether I was boss at the time or a subordinate.

    “… just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

  27. The old saying “Pride comes before the fall” reminds me that Satan was God’s most beautiful angel, and he knew it, and believed himself God’s equal (or so I’ve been told). Got himself fired too.

    Unless you are asking your employees to do something illegal or compromising, I cannot see a reason to yell, cuss or behave in a cathartic manner.

    Accomplishment leads to higher self respect and esteem, it is inward produced, not outwardly given with praise. I, like many, disagree with the popular self esteem movement in American education and society. We have produced a generation that is very proud of very little. I have also found many of the most accomplished people I know to be the most humble.

    I think an employer should be able to fire at will, just as an employee leaves for a variety of reasons. Creative tension is good, hostility and immaturity is draining.

  28. Scott E: “Fear is a piss-poor motivating factor. And it is always short-lived.”

    Is it fear of Fire that motivates you or the Fire itself?

    Consequence is the take-home from a Pigeon lesson. The humans will weigh the consequence, finer than the pigeons, but it still gets weighed.

  29. Scott Eudaley,
    Your points are well taken. And yet, they are somehow: wrong.
    Your service in the software world (and, to quote you, I’m not there, so I could be wrong) no doubt attracts many younger workers. It is, more often than not a setting in which there is relatively little contact with the public (in contrast to, say a restaurant or retail store.) And yes, I do know from whence I speak because as a second business, I am a founder of a medical device firm. I’ve hired engineers. And decided to let them go. There is a difference between upstream criticism and disrespect or inappropriate behavior. Most bosses and business owners understand that. Dan Madison no doubt understands. I understand. There’s a difference between internal sniping among employees, and either inappropriate behavior toward/around clients, or unacceptable ‘backtalk’ to superiors.
    Hierarchies are good. They work. You cannot run a business like a community meeting on the psych ward (“So, how does everyone feel about Joe’s complaints about Nurse Wendy? Let’s discuss our feelings about the tension on the unit, and how we can help Joe get in touch with his frustrations…”)

    When you run a business directing 25 professionals and 100 employees with over $100 million in billing, you may instruct me at will. Organizations have chiefs, and indians (politically incorrect statement—mon Dieu!) You point out that you’ve worked in your field for 30 years, and you’ve BEEN a boss. Were you better at it, perhaps you’d still be one.

    Business and its management is very, very straightforward. There are fairly sharp-edged guidelines for what one does, and what one does NOT in a professional environment. I’ve seen people come and go for more than twenty years in multiple professional settings, and believe-you-me:
    One dead pigeon goes a long way. After you found a few successful businesses, you’ll probably find out for yourself.

  30. Dan,
    one in position of power should cut some extra slack to his subordinates – people in dependent position; he should, in fact, permit them a bit more than to his equals in casual conversation: exactly because they are bound by their dependency, their mouth is already shut tighter than ordinarily in fear of loosing their livelyhood. So if they cross the line, it means either –
    – they are desperate or
    – they’re high-strung for some reason (unrelated to the job)
    – or they have been treated badly at workplace and can’t stand the bullying anymore.
    So it pays for you, as a manager, to pay attention to such outbreaks. They might be sympthom of an underlying and bigger problem – and not just with this particular person.

    It’s the same principle that requires a restaurant patron, magnitudes richer than his waiter, to be nice to the serving staff. Polite people look another way and not make a scene if their waiter happened to drop their fork – just repeat in a quiet tone of voice a request to bring another. Allow the weaker man his dignity – that would make you look better, not worse.

    In other words – a powerful man doesn’t need to demonstrate his power.

    Also, Scott is absolutely right – your stamping your foot (“in my own business! I’m the boss here!”) shows lack of humility on your part. Yes, you might be good in your business and you achieved much, and you’re the one who gives jobs to other people – but you depend on them, too. I even think you got where you are now not without the help and contribution of others, including your employees. You have more responsibility – true, but you’re compensated more, too.
    Another thing: that employee had worked in your business for one month; I am sure a month ego the situation with unemployemtn didn’t differ much from today’s. So you, probably, had as many applicants for his position then as now. And if you chose his among all others, you demonstrated certain judgement. Then, when you fired the guy on the spot for raising his voice in insubbordination, you effectively undermined your own judgement from month ago. As Scott said – that reflects on you as a manager and other employees will pause. Some in fear, some – in re-evaliuation of you. The times, thye will not always be on oyur side – there will be time of reversed job market, when good workers are not easy to come buy. Then those employees whose opinion of you sunk today will leave you for better places, where the boss is not so full of himself.
    Is that what you want?

  31. One other thing.

    I think deep down you know you your behavior was not perfect. Otherwise you wouldn’t ask for confirmation and wouldn’t write this post.

    So I see it as a hope for you.

  32. Tatyana – obviously I made the wrong choice in hiring this individual. This isn’t the first mistake I have made when hiring and certainly won’t be the last. Not being perfect is a specialty of mine. But my batting average overall is pretty good in the employee department.

    I guess I am wondering where you think I should draw the line after I repeatedly (politely) ask the individual to quiet down and discuss matters like a mature adult rather than shouting at me yet continue to get berated.

    I think Mlyster said it pretty well:
    “There is a difference between upstream criticism and disrespect or inappropriate behavior. Most bosses and business owners understand that. Dan Madison no doubt understands. I understand. There’s a difference between internal sniping among employees, and either inappropriate behavior toward/around clients, or unacceptable ‘backtalk’ to superiors.”

  33. It depends, Dan.

    If all the previous warnings happened in the course of that one conversation, say within 10 minutes – they don’t count as multiple warnings; the whole spat looks like a pissing contest, on impulse.

    You recognize yourself as not perfect and that you might’ve made a mistake in hiring this guy – and you excuse yourself. By the same token you should be able to recognize that he is not perfect either – and muight have made a mistake by raising his voice at you.
    I don’t know w/o additional details what would I do in that situation – but if this person was OK for the whole month and never gave you (or, more importantly, your customers) a problem before, then maybe he was worthy of your patience with this sudden outbreak.

    I’ll tell you frankly, you surprised and disapointed me with this post.

  34. I guess we will have to agree to diasgee, Tatyana. When I was working for others, I would have never even dreamed of shouting at my superiors, no matter how badly my personal life or other things were.

  35. “One in a power should cut some extra slack to his subordinates”—really?

    My Dad (like, perhaps everyone else’s) had a pet phrase—one of many, really. “You need to understand: this is not a democracy: its a benign dictatorship. And I’m Presidente for life.”

    If I build a business, take the risks, make the personal and financial capital investment, take the blame for any failures my business may have, and in turn both create jobs and guarantee a paycheck every two weeks to those who CHOOSE—not are forced, but CHOOSE—to work with me, then I don’t have to hold a meeting and pass the Talking Stick around every time there’s a problem or a dispute. To be an employed department manager with subordinates is one thing. It is quite another to be a business owner.
    I have seen horrendous department managers. I’ve seen miserable bosses, and I’ve had a few. I have, and have had in past lives (economically speaking) employees to whom I went with questions routinely, and deferred to their judgement on issues relevant to their tasks and those round them. They are invaluable.

    And then I’ve had some duds. Lousy client interaction; lazy and/or untruthful; whiny; just plain incompetent; oftentimes, they are highly correlated with those most likely to ‘talk back’ (not to be confused with “hey boss, dontcha think we should try doing it this way? It might work better”).
    Employees need to know that they can speak frankly. They also need to know that there are sharply delimited borders around that opportunity. I cannot yell at, berate, nor belittle employees publicly or privately: it’s wrong, and I’d wind up with a formal complaint filing. That knife cuts both ways, however. I didn’t spend decades becoming the lead dog just to spend my days asking permission from the other dogs where to steer. Neither, one suspects, did Dan from Madison.

  36. The full quote, which I have taped over my computer monitor is:

    “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a Fall.”

    This has proved so true over my life. My biggest tumbles have followed my most prideful episodes. By now, I know enough to slow down and look at myself when I start to get the Big Head.

    “Pride” in one’s legitimate accomplishments should be called something different from pride. The better word is “satisfaction.” Just as satisfaction is a deeper and warmer emotion than mere pleasure, so to is it better than mere pride which tends to arrogance.

    A decision to fire an insubordinate employee is clearly left to the business owner in this case. But a violently loud argument certainly qualifies as just cause in my book. But “employment at will” means the judgment of the superior doesn’t need to be second-guessed. Bad judgment will result in business failure from a judgment of the market place. The labor market seems to support Dan in this case.

  37. Dan, you absolutely have the right to hire and fire employees at will. And you absolutely have the right to have employees which suit your management style. In this case, there was obviously a mismatch, so firing was probably for the best. I was simply noting that you hadn’t given enough information for a third-party to make an informed judgement and was asking the questions I would need answered in order to do so. I wasn’t giving out “homework”. I thought, and still do, that trying to twist this one situation into a broad attack on pride was absurd.

    Since you seemed utterly perplexed by his behavior, I gave a counter-example where what you considered insubordinate behavior is actually highly desirable and to the company’s benefit. It is entirely possible that your employee came from that kind of environment and thought he was doing the right thing. It is also entirely possible that he is simply immature.

    By the strangest coincidence, last night at a concert I ran into the very boss whose ideas I called “f**king idiotic” so many years ago. We hadn’t talked in over 15 years. We both remembered those times with great fondness. We both agreed that engineering team, despite its loud, combative and “insubordinate” nature, was probably the best engineering team we ever worked on. We were doing highly demanding work on brutal schedules, and we were consistently successful. He even confessed, indirectly, that he now understood why I had quit the team (we had not parted on the best of terms). It was very good to see him again and I hope we can stay in touch. Time does heal some wounds.

    Note, that all of the engineers on that team were in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and highly experienced, so youth had absolutely nothing to do with it.

    In the free-market system, Dan is free to choose the kind of employees he wants and needs. And I am free to choose the kind I want. There is a place and job for almost everyone. Ain’t capitalism wonderful!

  38. You point out that you’ve worked in your field for 30 years, and you’ve BEEN a boss. Were you better at it, perhaps you’d still be one.

    True, I no longer work in my field. I was, however, quite successful, at all levels of the software industry. I am now retired. I developed Type 1 diabetes in my late 30’s. I am a labile diabetic, meaning my blood sugars are highly erratic, going up and down for no apparent reason. Moreover, I have what is called hypoglycemic unawareness, meaning I get no symptoms when my blood sugars drop too low. Those two complications combined mean I can suddenly go into a coma with no symptoms or warning signs. It has happened to me while I was walking down the street feeling perfectly normal. It takes an enormous amount of time and energy just to manage my disease. I’d be willing to bet that not many of you are actually envious of the typical insulin-dependent diabetic. I am.

    Despite that, I worked for another 10 years and only retired when my wife’s career reached a point where that became financially feasible. During that 10 years, I worked as a highly paid and highly respected consultant, a Chief Technology Officer and a VP of Engineering. As Chief Technology Officer, and founder, of a software company, starting with a concept (described as “impossible” by other experts) and no staff, I raised financing, produced a prototype, a beta release and a 1.0 release, while hiring a staff of 25 people all in less than 18 months. The 1.0 release included over 400,000 lines of Windows C++ code and 30,000 lines of Java server code. The engineering, QA and IT staffs I developed and managed were first-rate. That is quite an accomplishment, especially for someone who was sicker than a dog during the entire experience, including numerous bouts of ketoacidosis due to a failed attempt at using an insulin pump (you can google ketoacidosis, if you want the nauseating details of that complication).

    I reveal these details only so that others may judge whether your little bit of nastiness was justified. I’ve never tried to hide what happened to me. I want no sympathy. These are the cards I’ve been dealt and I’m making the most of it. I’m having a great life.

  39. “I’ve worked for over 30 years in the software industry. I’ve had good bosses and bad bosses. Without question, the best bosses were willing to be challenged, often forcefully, loudly and profanely. I’ve had yelling matches with bosses.”

    There are vast numbers of highly talented software engineers who do not want to work in such an environment, do not do their best in such an environment, and will refuse to put up with that sort of behavior. Maybe (maybe!) it really did work for you and all your coworkers, but it is a grave mistake to think that it is good for everybody.

  40. Mr. Dan:
    Allow me to say that I agree with you. I always told my sons that they could say whatever they wanted to me provided the issue was clear, they argued to the issue and they were not rude. I have the same philosophy at work, I see no reason to tolerate rudenss. I also happen to agree that the problem is pride. I am one of those who God has brought back to Himself and thinks that there is no morality once we deny Him.
    But I also understand what Mr. Eudaley is saying. It reminds of one of my great friends first marriage; lots of yelling, lots of screaming, a fair amount of cursing and some punch and tickle. I asked why he put up with it. He replied, the sex was great. It did not, of course, last. It was exhausting and is no recipe for a lasting marriage or a business. I tend to think it is almost like a drug which requires an ever increasing dosage to achieve the same result.

  41. When I was younger, I had the impression the world owed me a living. Therefore, I was entitled to my job and the owner owed me. I mean, after all, without me, the owner would be unable to keep the doors open. Right? (yes, I was that stupid…comes from being young and union)

    Anyway, a couple of decades ago, I finally realized the guy who writes the checks makes the rules. (providing, of course, it’s a non-union shop..yeah, I try to avoid union shops, just sayin’)

    When I finally realized that I owed the guy who writes the checks and the guy who writes the checks merely owes me a paycheck that won’t bounce, I changed my attitude.

    I figured out that it didn’t matter if I was hired to work on computers and network infrastructure. If the company asked me to dig a ditch, it wasn’t my place to say “not my job.” It was my place to ask “Where can I get a shovel and where would you like the ditch?”

    If, for some reason, I was averse to digging a ditch, I could either A: Quit on the spot, or B: Dig the ditch while looking for another job or C: Accept that digging ditches was now part of my job.

    My life became much easier once I became acquainted with the reality of having a job.

  42. There are vast numbers of highly talented software engineers who do not want to work in such an environment, do not do their best in such an environment, and will refuse to put up with that sort of behavior. Maybe (maybe!) it really did work for you and all your coworkers, but it is a grave mistake to think that it is good for everybody.

    I never said it was appropriate for all situations. In fact, during that conversation with my ex-boss, I brought up this post. He commented that the way we did things (loud, argumentative and profane) was not appropriate for every development team. I agreed. We both identified a number of good engineers who simply couldn’t have worked with us. The projects we worked on were large, multi-disciplinary and involved a number of different components developed by different teams. Some of those teams were doing fairly straight-forward development on well-understood components. Those teams were almost always populated by the kinds of engineers you describe. They were often appalled by our antics.

    The components we worked on were, however, not well-understood and development was never straight-forward. We were breaking new ground repeatedly. Conflict was inevitable. We embraced that and made it work for us. We were an elite team and we knew it. As bad as you may think it was, other engineers clamored to join us. We only accepted those who could work in that kind of environment.

    I want to emphasize that there was a great deal of respect and camaraderie on that team. The arguments never got personal or ad hominem (although the joking could be brutal). There were boundaries we wouldn’t cross. We didn’t necessarily like each other that much, but we respected each others abilities enormously. That is the key to making that kind of environment work.

    I have, in fact, refused to work in that kind of environment myself. Many years ago, I interviewed with Steve Jobs when he was starting NeXT Computers. Jobs had a reputation for being very demanding, argumentative, loud and profane (I think he has mellowed, somewhat, in recent years). Certainly, my interview with him was like that. We butted heads over everything. Unfortunately, at that point, he didn’t seem to have any boundaries and I thought he stepped over the line. I concluded the interview by telling him I would never work for him (and I haven’t).

    A number of comments include something along the lines of “the market will judge”. Indeed it has and will. The examples of Intel (Andy Grove) and Apple/Pixar (Steve Jobs) and Oracle (Larry Ellison), show that companies can be highly successful, even dominate their industries, with that kind of management style and working environment. There is room for a wide variety of highly successful management styles. It is not a “one size fits all” world.

    If, for some reason, I was averse to digging a ditch, I could either A: Quit on the spot, or B: Dig the ditch while looking for another job or C: Accept that digging ditches was now part of my job.

    Exactly right. I have chosen each of those options at one point or another.

  43. Scott,

    As an addendum, showing up to work on time and going about your business goes a long way toward keeping a job. You don’t have to be the best and brightest. You just need to be dependable.

    Many years ago, a good friend of mine, outstanding systems manager, worked for a company that wound up getting rid of a guy that was a brilliant systems admin.


    Because as good as the guy was, he wasn’t dependable. It’s all well and good to be outstanding at your job. How good you are at your job is irrelevant if you’re not there to do your job.

    I tend to think this is another example of a person with an over inflated sense of worth.

    Reminded me of someone I once knew….

  44. Blake, so now you want Scott to prove it to you that your speculation about his dependability is unfounded?

    Boy, how nasty people can get on this thread? Where is a limit to petty sanctimony?

    And no doubt you all call yourself “men”.

  45. Tatyana,

    Why don’t you go comment somewhere that requires less ability to read and comprehend? Perhaps there’s a Sesame Street forum you can find. Although, from what I can gather, even that might be a bit over your head.

    Anyway, I’ll try and explain things simply.

    In my first post, I talk about my own ego and thinking I was more valuable than the person who employed me.

    In my second post, I end with “…reminds me of someone I once knew….”

    I don’t know Scott, but I am somewhat familiar with myself.

    I was referring to myself and how I thought of myself in my younger years, moron.

    You is a generic term, not pointed at anyone. Sorry, I should have used “One” rather than “you.”

    My bad, I forgot that I should write to the lowest common denominator.

    On this thread, that’s you, Tatyana.

  46. Well, I think I have had enough of the name calling and will have to close comments to this one. Thank you all for the insights, it has been interesting reading this thread.

    Edit – 9-25-10, 6.47am central – Blake wrote me to apologize for the personal attacks in this thread.

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