Why am I referencing this movie? To date myself? No.
I was reminded of this movie as I read the story of reddit interim CEO Ellen Pao.
Pao had been considered one of the tech world’s leading lights. And reddit was certainly among its greatest success stories, rising from a simple message board to a broad, thriving, international online community with more than 160 million monthly visitors.
Last week, Pao tendered her resignation and in doing so, she revealed a company that is suffering through a crisis of conscience in its leadership ranks over how to control its user base.
Remarkably, in her final words as CEO, Pao made it clear she was leaving to escape the personal attacks reddit users had launched in her direction.
“In my eight months as reddit’s CEO, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly on reddit,” Pao said in a farewell post. “The good has been off-the-wall inspiring, and the ugly made me doubt humanity.” Strong words and emotions at the polar opposite of one another.
It’s clear that Pao has been through a very difficult period of time – not just as a CEO but as a person.
The thing that started it all, was Pao’s controversial decision to dismiss Victoria Taylor; a high-profile and popular reddit moderator. Taylor was among the site’s true rock star personalities.
Pao’s decision to terminate Taylor didn’t rest well with the reddit community, who rose up against her in staggering numbers.
The uprising (which was clearly inappropriate at times) had a profound professional and personal impact on Pao. She explained her own harrowing experiences with reddit users, some of whom had launched atrocious racist and sexist rants. “I just want to remind everyone that I am just another human; I have a family and I have feelings. Everyone attacked on reddit is just another person like you and me.”
Pao eventually apologized for “a long history of mistakes” involved in the lead up to Taylor’s dismissal. The full details of Pao’s decision to fire Taylor which prompted other moderators to shut down some of reddit’s sections has yet to come out.
Pao’s final decision was based on the fact that she could no longer endure the personal attacks from her customers. I think sometimes people forget that behind the big titles and big jobs, there is a regular person with personal feelings and real families. This is why being a leader is so hard. You end up shouldering a lot.
As I think about this story, a key question comes to mind. Did Pao underestimate what it means to be a leader and the hard work that comes with the role? The CEO role of a high-profile company like reddit is a pretty big deal and gives one power and influence in measures that are beyond the experience of most business leaders. In saying that, it is also a job that comes with great responsibilities and risks. In this case, Pao wasn’t able to weather the bad and the ugly of her leadership role.
This week’s leadership gut check asks: do you have the grit to endure the good, the bad and the ugly of being a leader?
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About the Author
Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.Follow on Twitter More Content by Vince Molinaro