Secret CIO: The Backstabber Gets His Comeuppance - InformationWeek

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6/18/2004
01:05 PM
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Secret CIO: The Backstabber Gets His Comeuppance

It's difficult to feel sorry for someone who richly deserves his fate.

Spitzer is a backstabber. He would rat out his mother (we assume he had one) if it would advance his career. It has been interesting to watch how he has been able to game the system to get ahead. In his five or six years with the company, he has sucked up to those impressed with his pseudo-intellectual patter and unending words of admiration for his mentor of the moment. He started out in sales and did well, but not particularly better than his peers. A year or two down the road, he volunteered to work as the liaison on a corporate personnel-development project and found his niche in life. When a job was posted in Human Resources to beef up our overall skills--an outgrowth of our CEO's desire to become a learning organization--Spitzer applied for the opening and lobbied hard to get it.

At first, people who worked with him were impressed. He was always upbeat and willing to follow up on your slightest wish--assuming you were a VP or above. After a while, it became clear that he bypassed colleagues to get face time with anyone higher up on the organization chart and was quick to blame co-workers whenever anything went wrong. It wasn't long before he graduated to voicing subtle digs about anyone who might be a competitive shining star in Human Resources. Nonetheless, Stephanie Stone, VP of HR, continued to laud him and rejected our comments about his behavior--that is, until last month.

It seems Spitzer resolved to increase his career options by getting close to another VP. Deciding Public Affairs would provide the appropriate level of exposure and remuneration, he began chatting up its VP, Crawford Huggins. Crawford is smart: liked by everyone, selective in sharing his opinions, and understands the politics of the company. Spitzer tells him that Gwen Smith, a manager in HR, has made a few boo-boos and asks his advice, hoping Crawford will pass along the dirt. Instead, Crawford says Spitzer owes it to Stephanie to inform her directly. What Crawford doesn't tell Spitzer is that while Gwen does make mistakes, this well-meaning hard worker also was Stephanie's roommate in college, and they are tighter than your belt after a seven-course meal. Like an arrow, Spitzer meets with Stephanie who just listens to him, deadpan, nodding. Emboldened, Spitzer acts as a conduit to Stephanie about poor Gwen's alleged misdeeds for the next few weeks. Finally, Stephanie can take no more and explodes at Spitzer, telling him to concentrate on his own job and let her run HR. Given Stephanie's temperament, Spitzer's occupational advancement is now over.

So I ask Crawford why he advised Spitzer to tell Stephanie about Gwen's little problems when a) Stephanie is well aware of Gwen's limitations, b) Spitzer is a snake, and c) he was just trying to use Crawford.

"Ah, Herbert, my friend," he smiles at me, "I thought it would be evident to a man of your analytical skills. Mr. Spitzer had Stephanie wrapped around his finger. None of us could persuade her that his backstabbing is detrimental to the health of the organization. Thus, it was incumbent upon us to let him convince her."

I smile back, but I still have to wonder, even though Spitzer richly deserves his fate, whether the end really justified the means.

Herbert W. Lovelace shares his experiences as CIO of a multibillion-dollar international company (changing most names, including his own, to protect the guilty). Send him E-mail at [email protected].


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Herbert Lovelace's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Herbert Lovelace, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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