Illustration: Ashley Siebels
As fictional “Game of Thrones” character Tyrion Lannister noted about leadership, “Any man who must say ‘I am the King’ is no king at all.”
And yet, people keep learning that lesson only after they’ve behaved obnoxiously. A former Walking Dead producer, the former voice of Kermit the Frog and the new president of France all learned this week that throwing your weight around is the quickest way to lose the trust of the people you work with.
The Walking Dead producer who threatened to kill his staff
No work email that begins with the preface “I am in a state of absolutely boiling rage right now” is going to be productive or improve morale.
But that’s exactly how fired ‘Walking Dead’ executive producer Frank Darabont addressed his colleagues in a work email in 2011.
Guys and gals,
I am in a state of absolutely boiling rage right now.
I just kept Denise on the phone for 20 minutes making her listen to me scream. I hope she conveys to you what the tenor of it, because you need to grasp my fury. I have never been a screamer, but I am now. The work being done on this episode has turned me into one. Congratulations, you all accomplished what I thought was impossible. You’ve turned me into a raging a–hole. Thanks a lot, you f—ers.
The emails came to light as AMC Networks filed them to support their case as to why Darabont was fired for his “erratic and unprofessional performance.” Darabont is suing AMC for $280 million over lost profits over the hit show.
The aggressive, threatening emails are extremely unflattering to Darabont. In one, he compares his work plight to the Fukushima tsunami and nuclear disaster. In another one, he alleges that his colleague’s incompetence are killing him with chest pains. In another, he compares his camera operators’ vision to the blind musician Ray Charles—which is not only insulting, but also highly insensitive.
And in yet another one, Darabont boldly threatens bodily harm: “Everybody especially our directors better wake the f— up and pay attention or I will start killing people and throwing bodies out the door.” Darabont told Variety that the “hyperbole” in his tone was a result of his working conditions, and that he stands by what he said “to the last detail.”
Maybe he should reconsider his stance if he wants to be taken seriously. We’ll never know the tone and reception of his emails. Did threatening his colleagues actually work? Did they take it in stride? All we have is this permanent record that makes Darabont look vindictive and small, and builds AMC’s case that he was unfit to lead. If you believe you have to bully and humiliate your colleagues for work to get done, you don’t know how to lead.
‘I am now Kermit’
Darabont is not the only employee to make a huge mismanagement misstep by throwing his weight behind his title. Puppeteer Steve Whitmire initially drew public sympathy after he was fired from his role as Kermit the Frog after 27 years. In a blog post, he spun the firing as a “drastic” decision from The Muppets Studio. Whitmire said he was told the role was being recast after “issues which had never been mentioned to me prior to that phone call.” Whitmire said that he was “devastated to have failed in my duty to my hero” —that is, Jim Henson, the Muppets creator.
After Whitmire came forward, Jim Henson’s son, Brian Henson, offered a different story than Whitmire’s version of events. Henson told The Hollywood Reporter that Whitmire had made “outrageous demands” since the mid-1990s and he regretted not firing Whitmire sooner for his “brinkmanship.”
Henson said that, “Steve would use ‘I am now Kermit and if you want the Muppets, you better make me happy because the Muppets are Kermit.’ And that is really not OK.”
If the allegations are true, then Whitmire is no longer a sympathetic work martyr. Instead, he sounds more like a diva. What his firing proves is that entitlement is often the source of employees making “outrageous demands” of their colleagues. Left unchecked, this entitlement can hurt your career.
‘I am your boss’
Doubt that forcing your title on people leads to bad outcomes? Just ask French President Emmanuel Macron.
On Wednesday, French military chief, General Pierre de Villiers, resigned after a public dispute with Macron. De Villiers had criticized military spending cuts during a parliamentary commission and had challenged Macron, “I won’t let you screw me like that.”
Macron did not, sad to say, rise above. Instead, he embarrassed de Villiers publicly: “It is not dignified to air certain debates in the public sphere. I made commitments [to budget cuts]. I am your boss,” Macron said.
Message received. De Villiers quit.
The fallout, however, was immediate, and it turned opinion against Macron. Macron’s decision to pull rank in his criticism of de Villiers rankled many in the political establishment. Several politicians paid homage to de Villiers’ career in statements, with two even going so far as to call the ousted defense chief “my General.” Macron’s “I am your boss” statement was seen by critics as an example of the 39-year-old world leader’s management inexperience.
The bottom line: A practiced leader doesn’t need to use his title to get what he or she wants.