Mark Hurd, whom I featured in Friday’s article, was one of the most respected and eminent leaders in Silicon Valley until his mighty fall following his dalliance with a contractor during his time as CEO of Hewlett Packard (HP.)
Hurd had hired this contractor, a glamour model, as a “hostess” for “executive summit events,” even at out-of-town places where there is no HP event, but Hurd happened to be.
Hurd was ultimately exonerated of violating HP’s sexual-harassment policy (nothing was consummated with the contractor, and Hurd settled with the accuser for undisclosed terms) but he was officially charged with drumming up expense reports.
Hurd walked away from HP with a $34 million severance package. Almost immediately, he became co-president of Oracle, earning $11 million a year and options.
Much has been speculated about the real reasons HP’s board gave Hurd the boot, especially considering that he probably falsified his just an expense report just the once. Even then, said expenses were petty compared to the massive turnaround he had engineered at HP after walking into a very troubling situation. Hurd was famed for his no-nonsense management style and for finagling a culture of operational excellence at HP.
The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power. Instead of being polite, honest and outgoing, they become impulsive, reckless and rude.
Contrary to the notion that nice guys finish last, research shows that the surest way to accumulate power is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
But once nice guys reach the top, the headiness of wielding power causes them to morph into a very different kind of beast. They lose their ability to empathize with others, especially lesser mortals, and ignore information that doesn’t confirm what they already believe. Most tellingly, perhaps, they learn to excuse faults in themselves that they are quick to condemn in others. That’s not to say that every CEO is a secret villain. But even the most virtuous people can be undone by the corner office.
Idea for Impact: Power can become an enabler of corruption, deceit, and hypocrisy. People in positions of power have incentives to hold others to strict account for their behaviors even as they themselves act up, especially when the odds of being caught and punished are slim.