What role do anger and temper play in your professional personality?
Major: 28 percent
Minor: 72 percent
Adam, the popular and visionary CEO of a major automotive supply company in the deep South, arrived at his company's head-quarters one morning around 8:45 A.M. When he walked in the building, he noticed that cubicle after cubicle and office after office were empty. Adam had a strong work ethic and believed his employees should get in the same time he did. When he saw the empty offices, he began to doubt his employees shared his beliefs. So he wrote his employees—all eight thousand of them—an angry e-mail telling them that they had better shape up or he would mete out all kinds of punishment. One of the employees decided to post the e-mail on an Internet chat line. The investing public got the e-mail and immediately started selling the stock, fearing that the company was not productive. The stock lost 20 percent of its value in one day. Although Adam's company recovered under his strong leadership, Adam learned a lesson about the possible unintended consequences of angry e-mail.
Joe, a mid-level program manager at a major aerospace company, also let his anger get the best of him. He managed a program that built actuator assemblies for commercial aircraft. The program had a lot of problems, which Joe blamed on the customer, who constantly changed the design of the actuators. The customer blamed Joe and his company for building allegedly defective actuators. Eventually the customer terminated Joe's company for default and sued his company for about a million dollars, claiming breach of the actuator contract. The million dollars represented the marginal or "delta" cost of getting a new company in quickly to build the actuators—in other words, the new company charged a million more than Joe's did.
Then something even worse happened. In the lawsuit, the customer subpoenaed all of Joe's documents, including his personal notes, day planners, and e-mails. Those notes, planners, and e-mails had numerous profane remarks about the customer, including such gems as:
"If those SOB's don't stop jerking my chain, I am going to slow down the work on the project and watch them f***ers wither out and dry when their customer gets mad!! Without my actuators, they can't build their planes. They can eat s***!"
I put the one e-mail in this book so you can get an idea of just how bad the situation was. Add seventeen or so more statements just like it, and you get the whole picture.
As soon as the customer's lawyers got these documents, they amended their lawsuit against Joe and his company to ask for punitive damages. They claimed that the profane e-mails were evidence of malicious intent, entitling them to big money. In fact, the customer asked for $15 million in damages for tortious interference with contract—all over and above the initial $1 million that the customer sought for the alleged breach of contract. What had been a manageable $1 million problem was now a $16 million problem spinning out of control.
Joe claimed he was just blowing off some steam and never thought the notes and e-mails would see the light of day. Unfortunately, as a result of the increased potential liability for the company, Joe's CEO got involved and settled the case out of court for over $5 million. Joe had spent twenty-two years at the company and had stellar performance reviews, but the only thing the CEO knew about him was that he had written a slew of profane notes and e-mails about a customer that cost the company $5 million. That was the end of Joe's career in program management.