Dry Erase Girl Demonstrates Why the Age of Open Leadership is Here

One of the news stories circulating on the Internet today is about a girl who quit her job as an executive assistant, and outed her boss as a sexist Farmville addict (story here). She now has a Facebook page that’s asking fans to nominate her to be a Playboy model, which makes me wonder if the story is a hoax, or if she’s just capitalizing on the viral nature of her whiteboard photo series and really did quit. (Update #1: My friend Andy points out that the FB page is created with an edited photo from the original site, so anyone could have created it. Update #2: AllThingsD says the entire stunt is a hoax).

The two primary things she “outs” about her manager is that he’s sexist (he calls her a HOPA, or “hot piece of ass” on the phone), and that he spends 19.7 hours per week on Farmville, in addition to time spent on Scottrade (4 hrs) and TechCrunch (5.3 hrs).  We don’t know that any of this is true; although the fact that she wrote it on a whiteboard and stood in the photos makes it *feel* far more credible.  We’re used to doubting words more than pictures.

Humor is one of the things that makes lots of stories enticing to circulate, but this has something else that makes it fascinating: a subordinate standing up to her boss in a very public way about his (alleged) bad behavior. She supposedly uses monitoring software that was already running on all the computers in the office to track his website use, and then email to insure that her story will arrive in everyone’s inbox before the boss had a chance to do anything about it. Kind of brilliant, if what you want to do is burn your boss and expose yourself as someone who puts your own interests above your company’s.

(warning: Mad Men spoiler ahead) Most companies would toss her resume as soon as they connected her with this stunt. And 60 years ago, this kind of thing would have seemed pretty much inconceivable. When Don Draper sleeps with his assistant on a recent episode of Mad Men, you never think for a second that she’ll write about that experience, photocopy it, and put it on everyone’s desk for them to read in the morning.

But nowadays, there may be companies that would consider her chutzpah and creativity to be an asset. Will someone end up hiring her *because* she created something viral? To me, her getting hired because of this seems more likely to happen now than it would have 10 years ago. Social media has made information sharing more free, and it may make the punishment for this type of sharing less harsh – the jury’s out. In fact, I notice that the comments on TheChive are trending generally in favor of her choice, with a smattering of further sexist comments, and a few negative ones (although one presumes that there are less leaders leaving comments than rank and file employees).

All this made me think of @CharleneLi‘s book “Open Leadership“. The thesis of the book is that information about your company, your employees, and your customers is going to continue to be more and more public, whether you’re excited about that, or not. The first chapter is called “Why Giving up Control is Inevitable”, and the first bullet point in the New Rules is “Respect that your customers and employees have power.”

I’m thinking that this exposes one of guiding principles that makes happy startups: their leaders behave with integrity, even when they think no one’s watching.  That doesn’t guarantee that leaders always do the right thing, or even that they never play Farmville. (Everyone likes to blow off steam, and maybe Farmville is the new golf?)

But the behavior of leaders is more important than ever, because in addition to the staff watching, there are more and more ways for people to share information widely and anonymously. Mark Twain said “Dance like nobody’s watching”, but I’d add to that “Lead like everyone’s watching”.

Author: Marcy Swenson

Marcy Swenson is an executive coach who works with tech startup founders and leaders. She writes about about entrepreneurs, leadership, and startup culture on her blog at StartupHappiness.com. She is studying what factors contribute (or detract) to creating a happy startup culture. Prior to becoming a coach, Marcy was a co-founder with two successful exits; at CPTH (Nasdaq), she built the tech team that led to IPO. Forbes names CPTH the fastest-growing high-tech company in the world in 1999. CPTH grew to 3000 employees in 4 years; for comparison, Google grew to 3000 employees in 6 years.

5 thoughts on “Dry Erase Girl Demonstrates Why the Age of Open Leadership is Here”

  1. My hunch is that this is a staged stunt, and that she didn’t actually quit her job, but I’m unlikely to find the truth unless it comes back my way later after Snopes can develop the story for me.

    1. It seems like the whiteboard camera series was one of the things that got Andrew his moment of Internet fame.

      Was Andrew the first to do a whiteboard pictorial story series that you know of?

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