Two Sides of the Same Counterfeit Coin: Part 9

Justice and decency are carried in the heart of the captain, or they be not aboard

— Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)

Well lights out tonight, trouble in the heartland
Got a head-on collision, smashin’ in my guts man
I’m caught in a crossfire, that I don’t understand
But there’s one thing I know for sure
Girl, I don’t give a damn
For the same old played out scenes
I don’t give a damn
For just the in-betweens . . .

Badlands, you gotta live it every day
Let the broken hearts stand
As the price you’ve gotta pay
We’ll keep pushin’ till it’s understood
And these badlands start treating us good

In another effort to plant the seed for the series finale, I wanna talk a bit about what we lose in pursuit of what we’re trying to gain.

There’s a nice park called The Green in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s a pleasant place to visit with various sculptures and abstract art on display.

What stands out in my mind the most are the artistic benches and chairs. On each piece are prominent letters spelling out words such as honor, truth, perseverance, and so on.

All words but one lie flat on the top of the pieces . . .

The one that sets itself apart from the rest is the word “Risk,” and its first letter is hanging on the edge.

Even in my tiny world of work, the waste I have witnessed is staggering. And this happens for one reason and one reason only:

Someone in authority doesn’t exercise it.

Who hasn’t had to put up with some jackass on the job?

Some degree of that just comes with the territory, but in my industry of IT — there has been an undeniable trend of tolerating what would have been totally unacceptable in the past.

Once again — A lot of that goin’ around

Rick’s the type of guy who would lose his job on principle

When a friend and former colleague said that 14 years ago — while I knew it to be true, even I’ve been surprised how many times it’s come true.

If you wanna operate with questionable billing practices and provide poor service, don’t hire me.

Oakwood has some top-notch people — but their leaders are unworthy of them.

A lot of that goin’ around too

In 2016, I was sitting in a room with my firing squad at Oakwood — as I was being terminated for “interrupting business practices.”

  • Essentially, they were overbilling a client — and I wouldn’t stand for it. The client verified my view by later telling me that they’d been doing that for years. And yeah, I know it rings a bell with “mail fraud” in The Firm, but this really did happen. ;o) 
  • They sat there calm, cool, and collected — as the person who was incensed by their unethical behavior, was seen as the problem. I can still see the smugness on their faces.
  • Funny part was — I walked in, sat down, and within moments I was told that I was being terminated. I said, “OK!” — and got up to walk out. They’re like, “Whoa, wait a moment — we need to go through a couple things.”
  • They wanted me to sign their precious piece of paper (a condition to get whatever I had coming to me). I had no intention of signing — but I used every minute to rip them to shreds while they waited till I did.
  • When I was done — I crumbled it up, tossed it on the floor, and walked out the door

The notion that remaining calm equates to being aboveboard and reasonable — is an illusion.

To be sure, an even-tempered demeanor can be considered in the equation. But if a person counters with baseless beliefs — it doesn’t matter how pleasant they are about it.

This tactic is used all the time — typically by people who’ve got something to hide.

Central to how they can remain so calm — is that they’re not burdened by counterargument that crushes their convictions.

They don’t play the rules, because to them — there are none.

The 19 bullet points making up Mentality of a Mob — are evasive maneuvers to do anything but get to the truth.

Their civility is a charade in their immovable contempt for correction — playing childish games that fit a formula designed to infuriate you (at which point they’ll pull the innocence card and haughtily condemn your tone).

Contrary to convenient opinion, this behavior is entirely driven by emotion — it’s just that it’s not visible.

All they’ve got is the appearance of propriety by maintaining their composure. Because the second they consider the issue on the merits, they’re screwed.

And yeah, I’m talkin’ to you, Mr. Sowell — and everyone like you. Most people who put you on a pedestal are not the discerning sort.

But hey, if call sign Maverick means that much to ya.

So the person who’s got the goods to make the case — occasionally gets pissed off at people who don’t abide by even the most minimal standards of honest communication.

And they get away with it, because they’ve got friends.

I prefer friends who hold me to a higher standard.

I’m old-fashioned that way

I’ve just got this crazy idea that my mind can be elevated by others who know or see something I don’t.

Why would anyone jeopardize a high-paying job that they love? I feel a deep sense of duty to my customers, as they’re the reason I live a life of endless fulfillment in problem solving.

Since I get to learn and grow in all kinds of ways that serve my interests, shouldn’t I seek to do the same to serve theirs? If I were running a company, you’d check your ego at the door or you wouldn’t work there.

I may never find such a place, so I’ve had to make concessions for the totally unnecessary.

But no matter how much I adjusted over time, my allowances for the asinine could never keep up with the pace of pampering that plagues our society.

Just how far should I be asked to lower the bar?

I’m asking the same question to our Crap Is King country.

Rollo Tomassi was manager at Elara — and after nearly 2 years of walking on eggshells with this guy, I’d just had it.

Trying to reach him was like playing dodgeball — for all the “Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive, and Dodge” goin’ on. A younger version of me would never have put up with it as long as I did.

It was bound to blow

If Rollo had been the worst of the culprits who came before him — I could live with that.

He was worse than all of them — combined!

To watch this man weasel his way out of everything and show such disregard for our customers (and a whole host of other things) — I found it intolerable.

And Rollo is a master at playing the calm card — priding himself on his calmness as he sails Scot-Free on his Sea of Chaos.

You cannot be, I know, nor do I wish to see you, an inactive spectator. . . . We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.

― Abigail Adams (October 16, 1774)

What the powers that be in most companies don’t get — is that you create more conflict in cultures that go to excessive lengths to avoid it. It’s just that the conflict is concealed in subtleties that disguise mounting frustration and waste.

While you put out your PR and pretend this undercurrent of crap doesn’t exist.

This — is a microcosm of America

Our paths are polar opposites.

Rollo turned away from what struck a nerve — I turned toward it.

I have never worked with anyone who overreacted on such a regular basis.

Week after week went by, with twice-a-week meetings with End Run. To listen to Rollo represent our team in such shoddy ways — wore on me more than anything I had ever experienced in my professional life.

It was embarrassing

I can take it — what I can’t take is their service being sacrificed for his ego. If you read the whole story, just when you think it can’t get any worse — think again!

Something had to be done.

Going to Rollo would be worse than worthless. This guy would go out of his mind if I questioned his leadership and performance on the level of my concerns.

Just Wondering is an email I sent him last July. If you can’t sense anything out of such fluffy language as “just wondering” on a concern of this severity — I don’t know what to tell ya.

But that was nothing compared to the gross negligence to come.

And I had serious reservations about going to the Head Honcho over him. I only met him once when I first started — and talked to him once or twice at most since. So I didn’t have a good read on him from that standpoint.

But lemme tell ya what I did have a good read on . . .

The inescapable fact that Rollo’s behavior and abysmal performance reflect on Head Honcho’s leadership.

I know what What Real Leadership Looks Like — and the magnificent experiences that can come from taking risks. But these guys at Elara couldn’t shine the shoes of those in that story.

Head Honcho twice ignored my request to share my concerns. Rather than address the root of the problem — this was his solution:

I purposely chose “Flexible Fabric” — only to be delighted further when I saw “Memory-Weave.” But I howled when I saw these (especially the 3rd one):

  • Stretchable
  • Comfortable
  • Moves with you

And the reality-bending of the body capped it all off.

Their “management” style is completely in line with the times — sanctioned as if time-honored traditions of leadership did not exist for reference.

The decline of our country is captured in that Band-Aid box alone.

Fun fact: Elara is one of Jupiter’s moons.

When I wrote the original version of this story (starting with Letter of the Law and ending in Unbroken), I injected some background stories so you’d have some history behind why I see things as I do.

I wrote the story that I would want to read.

I still had more to say — which led to the Over the Moon letter below, and the 6-part chronological case (with Elara Email of Itemized Issues as the preface).

I must share this brief excerpt — as it bears on a key aspect of this post:

It’s bad enough that his actions were devoid of professional courtesy, but when I asked if DevOps had a custom URL field available, he was racing off to prove that it did.

It was pathetic to watch him fumble about in desperation — only to end up with a “URL” field that was text, and then have the bottomless nerve to falsely equate these programs by saying . . .

They all do the same thing

You people had me confused with somebody else. Not even in my choice of vanilla ice cream would I be so generic.

After I put some serious time and effort into designing my system and solving that URL problem — this [$#%^^>)* _ #!*&%-@+$] comes sailing in on his submarine-sized ego, runs Scot-Free aground, and still manages to sit there soaking up the sun in all his glory.

I was appalled by both the consistency of his conceit and the hollowness of his conclusions.

Considering his sky-high intellect, advanced skills, and breadth of experience — to be so easily satisfied with such shoddiness, takes a stupefying feat of psychological gymnastics.

I set out to keep my cool on my death-knell call months later, but my on-tap disgust from decades of dealing with this bullshit just boiled over.

With the ease of one without conscience, Rollo rolled out one ludicrous excuse after another — absolving himself as though his record had disappeared off the face of the Earth.

To be sure, he tossed me a token or two about how he needs to work on this and that — as if his turbocharged hypersensitivity is just some fine-tuning knob to turn.

To give you some sense of the revulsion I expressed on my death-knell call — this scene from Saving Private Ryan captures the core.

I wish I could sound as cool as Tom Sizemore in maybe the greatest smackdown in cinematic history.

But unlike that jackass ripping off A Few Good Men in “Expert” By Association, I wouldn’t use the line anyway. It wouldn’t be authentic, and I can’t have that.

You don’t know when to shut up — You don’t know how to shut up . . . You are a coward son of a bitch!

“You don’t know when to shut up. You don’t know how to shut up” — is especially fitting for Rollo.

If I’m saying you’re long-winded, you’re off the charts.

Other than the clusterf#$% he caused by being malignantly narcissistic — I really liked the guy and we got along great (when he wasn’t ruining everything with his ego).

I learned a lot from Rollo — he’s one of the smartest individuals I’ve ever known.

That — makes it all the more maddening

I got the call from his manager a few days later. And right on cue, Head Honcho hunkered down in his halo like his kin that came before him.

How they see themselves so upright is sickening.

For all those who ignore the elephant in the room while having no shortage of scrutiny for those who dare to ask:

Wouldn’t we be able to move around more freely without this elephant in the way?

There’s a name for your kind — and it’s called “The Critic”

Here’s lookin’ at you, Head Honcho:

Just how blind and inept do you have to be to let egregious delays, mediocrity, and mounting frustration persist on multiple fronts — all revolving around one Rollo?

A huge problem in IT is that you have a ton of technical people who have no business being managers.

They end up in these slots because they gotta get promoted somehow, there’s a void to fill, or they’re connected to the person who put them there . . .

The good ol’ boy network of white-collar chaos

It’s bad enough that they don’t have the goods — what’s worse is that are utterly oblivious to the depths of their deficiencies. So they feel no sense of need to fill what they don’t believe to be missing.

It is hard to fill a cup which is already full

I had a 30-minute window with my firing squad that day.

But this wasn’t like at Oakwood — where I could somewhat control the situation while they waited. I would have dropped the hammer on Head Honcho — but I wanted to get the most out of every minute of my time.

They would have hung up on me had I said what I really wanted to.

But I did tell ’em this in regard to Rollo:

Somebody should have put a boot in his ass a long time ago

You know what — I got paddled once in grade school.


I got the message — but America doesn’t do messages anymore. Wouldn’t wanna hurt anybody feelings by telling them to “suck it up” or “shape up or ship out.”

I don’t see accountability anywhere in sight, do you? And no, holding the opposition’s feet to the fire doesn’t count.

Anybody can do that.

Somewhere over the rainbow:

If you come here, you are going to need to want to be pushed, to be challenged, to work. If you are here to collect a paycheck, or to show up, don’t come.

— Ric Elias, CEO of Red Ventures

How could I resist?

On that note

What do these to images have in common with good leadership?

Dancers in the center are always the smoothest — and you can spot that even in the stills.

The other girls are good, but the ones in the center have the magic.

You don’t have be magical or even smooth to be a manager — but if you wanna be at the center, you damn well better be willing to step up your game.

Budging One millimeter at a time doesn’t count

If chaos consistently surrounds a leader — they’re unfit for the job. Like most people, the team operates within the confines of the conditions set by the manager.

Whereas I’m guy who essentially says . . .

You can do a helluva lot better, and you sold yourself as someone who would!

These people and their sales pitch, I swear.

To put company credos in comical terms, there’s that vintage My Cousin Vinny scene where he says, “You were serious about dat?” — in response to the judge reprimanding him once again for not looking lawyerly in his courtroom.

It’s not so funny when companies have that same look on their face when I hold them accountable to their claims:

What? You thought we actually meant all that stuff about higher standards, accountability, integrity, and iron sharpens iron?

Doing right by our customers, the team, and each other were my primary concerns. Pride and politics were theirs. For folly of this level to persist, almost invariably, it’s connected to the relationships of those involved.

Nobody gets away with this without a guardian angel.

My second-round interview was with Head Honcho — and he made a point about the kind of environment I could expect. It was so important to me that I wrote about it in my thank-you email below.

As stated in the opener of Over the Moon:

[Head Honcho] made a promise that he did not even try to fulfill. “Here’s what I think and here’s why” were his words to represent the basis of discussion in his department. When it counted most, I found nothing of the kind and far worse.

It was explained to me that, outside the Mission Control room, it could get downright heated . . . that it was allowed . . . that the NASA etiquette, allowed for screaming matches when it was about the work, when it was about solving the problem . . .

Here’s what I think of your “Here’s what I think and here’s why” . . .

They are not aware when life asks them a question

How you respond to criticism can be life-altering . . .

And I would know — many times over

I took some boxing lessons a lifetime ago, and I remember watching the trainer pound a medicine ball into those who were seemingly glutton for punishment.

While I was not aiming to become a boxer, I had every intention of taking the same blows. 

Before that day arrived, I had always imagined the pummeling as an agonizing workout, but it turned out to be quite exhilarating — a rite of passage of sorts.

All along it was just an illusion that I had created in my mind, and that fear was far worse than the reality.

The Teacher beats you with medicine to build up resistance that will ultimately protect you, but first you have to be willing to trust that he’s not out to crack your ribs.

There’s a technique to it — just like in anything worth doing.

Even spur-of-the-moment debates on unimportant matters can be invaluable training when you enter the ring with sincerity.

Rules of Engagement tells of a story like that.

My entire life was shaped by embracing scrutiny that lasted less than 60 seconds.

Rollo had his moment of truth and threw it away — denying irrefutable evidence of his issues. In one instance, he flat-out lied about something that’s clear as can be on paper.

What’s especially interesting about that deception is that the team would be none the wiser.

But he couldn’t help himself — he had to engineer the impression anyway. He once told the team that he wants the truth — even when it’s about him.

“I’m thinking, you know I’m on the call, right?”

No one else would push him in the first place. So telling us that he wants the truth was as empty as it gets.

It was all empty

This guy’s got an excuse for everything — I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire career. 

Does that strike you as someone interested the truth?

He’s 55 years old — that’s still a good bit of time left to redefine his future. He opted to sooth his fragile ego, and in so doing — further calcified how he sees himself.

Without a doubt, Head Honcho knew that everything I said was true, but instead of doing what’s right — he slapped a Band-Aid on the situation and swept the real problem under the rug.

If you don’t want me hurtin’ your boy’s feelings, get off your ass and do your goddamn job

How I wish I could have gotten that in during my ousting.

A real manager deals with problems directly and doesn’t pamper personalities.

They don’t run their shop like a daycare center. They mean business — and it shows.

Head Honcho had other ideas: Opting for the path of least resistance — courageously plugging away at their precious protocol . . .

He blew a golden opportunity to become a better manager — and demand that Rollo do the same. Improving his leadership lends itself to advancing the abilities of the team and the quality and timeliness of the work we provide.

The cascading effect of their dereliction of duty is felt far and wide.

Every time you evade valid criticism, you’re not simply stuck in the same place — you’re getting worse, as you’ll find it increasingly easier to rationalize what you believe.

Look around

You don’t know when to shut up — You don’t know how to shut up!”

I didn’t take a position on guns, I took a position on lying — I came out against it — Will McAvoy

Like I wrote in the letter: “As the team and demands grew, his weaknesses just exploded.”

Had he listened to me early on, it would have changed the trajectory of our path — and I’d still be there. But because he didn’t, his I-beam steel stubbornness hardened even more each time I tried to reach him.

And that is exactly what Eric Fromm is talking about in The Heart of Man above.

Just with the 3 of us alone — that’s major loss in opportunity for each individual, the company, and the customers.

Now you have to factor for the loss to the team and the business partners I served. I learned a lot from my colleagues and they learned from me — and I have a good bit of knowledge I bring to the table.

Bottom line: Even in a small company with a handful of people directly involved in this fiasco, there’s a helluva lot of loss on multiple fronts.

Now consider the fact that this mess embodies how America operates.

This company bent over backwards to babysit this guy’s ego — harming their own interests.

Like you do every day in servile service of politicians & pundits who don’t give a damn about you.

The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole.

Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else.

— Theodore Roosevelt (Kansas City Star, May 7th, 1918):

my track record

Your track record

Truth and integrity are just about branding: Messaging tools to browbeat the opposition about virtues you employ only part-time.

Once again, how fitting that it’s at 180.

I made an honest mistake about that Trayvon picture and apologized for it in Part 1. Apologists painted him as a child, flat-out lied on material evidence, and immediately framed the entire incident in their favor.

Your actions were egregiously out of sync with due process — and yet the notion of admitting any wrongdoing would never even cross your minds.

And you on the Right with your mindless monopoly on patriotism:

Consider yourselves lucky that you can’t comprehend the depths of destruction and bloodshed from your bullshit.

And yet America just casually moves on — masking realities with more platitudes in celebration of freedom. I fail to find the liberty in allowing people to engineer your perception. 

People love to plug the “nobody’s perfect” line, and yet so many of ’em proudly refuse to be corrected on anything.

The incorrigible in that camp act like they’re never wrong, never rude, never foolish, never over-the-top, never unreasonable, and never insulting.

In the spirit of the “only guilty man in Shawshank” — I’ve been all of those things at one time or another.

If you wanna gauge someone’s commitment to doing right by their fellow man — ask ’em how many times they didn’t.

My aim was always to find a home where I could settle in for an ever-evolving future — a quest for belonging in the right company, with a crew that continually hones its craft.

I wanted one tiny space in the world where people do right by one another — and rise to the occasion when they don’t.

It was just a dream, so I’ve had to repeatedly lower my expectations if I wanted to continue in this career. All I ask for now is that people be in the ballpark of their beliefs, but even that seems too much to ask.

I’ve always clashed with a culture that increasingly values bullshit as currency.

Rollo’s behavior became normalized that way — and so did yours.

I never got on board — and I never will

Remember that guitar in a museum in Tennessee
And the nameplate on the glass brought back twenty melodies
And the scratches on the face
Told of all the times he fell
Singin’ every story he could tell . . .

Deep down, the dream lives on . . .

When you see your ship go sailing
When you feel your heart is breaking
Hold on tight to your dream

It’s a long time to be gone
Time just rolls on and on
When you need a shoulder to cry on
When you get so sick of trying
Hold on tight to your dream

When you get so down that you can’t get up
And you want so much but you’re all out of luck
When you’re so downhearted and misunderstood
Just over and over and over you could . . .

When you see the shadows falling
When you hear that cold wind calling
Hold on tight to your dream . . .


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