Almost a year ago, I attended a management seminar called "Breakthrough to Leadership." After over twenty years in the field of Training and Organization Development, I'd say this this was one of the most memorable courses I have ever attended. And I don't mean that in a good way.

I wrote about this once before at this blog. To put this in context, my company had been bought in December of 2004. Immediately the downsizing began. In January, the new owners were putting all of the surviving acquired managers through a four day culture class. In that prior posting, I highlighted one of the positives of this seminar.

Now to balance out the picture. If there is one word that might best describe this experience it would have to be sadistic. It became clear within the first hour, that we were going to be cruelly tortured for the next four days. Not torture in the sense of pulling out fingernails or applying electric shocks to sensitive body parts.

No, the torture in this case was emotional and psychological. Some examples.

- Provoking and pushing people to see how long it would take to break them, in front of their peers.
- Insulting and belittling people.
- Embarrassing people.
- Putting people on the spot repeatedly and uncomfortably.
- Telling people they did not have what it takes and would not make it in the new company.

The consultants told us that we were incompetent as leaders. They threatened us and bullied us. Never in my career had I seen such unethical behavior on the part of a consulting firm and the management of an acquiring company.

Was there a method to this madness? A reason for the torture? Yes. It was quite clear that the consultants had been hired to test us. And to do so in such an aggressive manner that the weak would wash out and only the strong would survive.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 12/24/2005


George Hathaway said…
OMG... I have never heard of such a thing. Well, almost never. This is the treatment they gave us for 9 months when I attended Officers Candidate School back in the early VietNam days. I don't really think it was that effective back then. Apparantly, the Army agrees since officer training is very different now.

I am surprised that your company did this. If this is representative of their culture it is good that you were laid off. No one needs to work there.

I know several aggressive cultures (AIG is one) but they would never go to such extremes. This would be a wonderful lawsuit waiting to happen.

George Hathaway
Terrence said…
Hey George

As a leadership development pro yourself, you would have been appalled.

Your instincts are right about the company's culture. It is one based on fear, which comes directly from the person at the top.


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