The newspapers are alive with increasing details about the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Although most will have a racy fascination for a case of celebrity downfall due to possible illegal and egregious behavior, I see it as a way to reinforce the business principles of an article I wrote several months ago entitled “The Stallion Dilemma.”
In “The Stallion Dilemma” I discussed the challenge of managing high performers who become vital to our business success, but lose their moral way. It is the issue supervisors face in managing egocentric subordinates who are good at business goal achievements but ever increasingly violate rules and ethical boundaries. The stallions feel “deserving” of behaviors not accepted within the boundaries of others, because of their success and the accolades of followers who depend on that success. The Stallion Dilemma is also about the gradualism of the slippery slope of decay when these inexcusable behaviors are not confronted early and firmly.
Weinstein was a very high performer for several decades. The success of a movie producer is dictated by their ability to raise capital from investors, gather the best talent, obtain the best scripts and create a box office anticipation of every next project. It is the power to get the best approach in a very competitive and high-risk environment. Admittedly, Weinstein’s track record as a producer is not in dispute. He was a stallion.
He also was an employee of a corporation that carried his name and of which the outside owners of the business were represented by a board of directors. The board’s duty was oversight of management and legality of its practices. As the details come out, it is apparent that the board was well aware for years of Harvey’s sexual abuse allegations from numerous young actors. Harvey’s behavior is reprehensible due to the amount of leverage he had over his victims. Many were attractive want-to-be actresses living three or four to an L.A. apartment, making a living off of restaurant tips while hoping to catch a break in the entertainment industry. There could not have been more vulnerable targets. The consequences of rejecting Weinstein’s advances could be fatal to a future career that many young women had sacrificed so much for.
It has been repeatedly reported that the Hollywood industry was long aware of Harvey’s reputation. They tolerated it, even continually honoring him for his business prowess. ‘Couch casting’ behavior has been around the Hollywood culture since the 1930s–Harvey was just a more extreme and modern version of that practice. Regardless, some of the same women who, at every recent Oscar presentation, righteously lecture the world relative to their advocacy of women’s and minorities’ rights turned a blind eye to Harvey’s egregious antics. Many whom were disgusted by his behavior may have been afraid to speak out due to his power. Many actors who had already ‘made it’ chose to avoid and ignore him. They all turned a blind eye to Harvey’s continued victimization of the next generation of younger females. It took the NYC news media to break a long-known story, not the Los Angles or entertainment press.
Harvey Weinstein is the “Stallion Dilemma” taken to the exposed extreme. We should all contemplate whether, as supervisors or boards, we are tolerating our own budding stallions that ever so gradually advance the seriousness of bad and immoral behavior while hiding under the appreciation from others for their business results. Have we established non-negotiable moral boundaries of our corporate culture or do those boundaries vary dependent on individual employee performance?
As I contemplate the situation I’m struck by three theories about this case that could be applied to others in the business world.
First, what difference would it have made to have a woman director on the Weinstein board? This is where diversity might have saved an enterprise risk crisis that will have catastrophically expensive results for reputation and profit of the company. In an industry where so many of the participants are female, why was the board comprised of all males?
Second, as time goes on, so do societal moral boundaries. What was accepted relative to women’s rights (or lack thereof) in the 1970s is not the same today. Intolerance of bullying and sexual abuse has advanced quite a way in recent years. Does this beg for the addition of some younger directors who are more in touch with this generation’s norms? Did Weinstein’s board lose its way because it was brought up in a different generation of tolerance?
Finally, was the Weinstein board a victim of lack of board turnover and excess of personal friendships, which resulted in gradual acceptance of Harvey’s immoral or illegal behavior as just an operational problem to overcome? Was the board built around an indispensable stallion? How much board rotation should we demand through term limitations to keep the boiling-frog syndrome from allowing us to lose our way?
As corporate leaders, this is food for thought.
© 2017 Robert Uhler and THE UHLER GROUP. All rights reserved.