HR and the Dark Side of Leadership

Mark Fogel Corporate Social Responsibility, Employee Relations, Good HR, Mark Fogel

I am speaking in June at #SHRM 2017 in New Orleans on “HR and the Dark Side of Leadership”. Dark topics are not new for me or for many of you who frequent the FOT site.

I am pulling double duty this year at SHRM national. I am also doing a traditional presentation on “Moneyball for the Talent function” too. I will discuss that when we get a little closer to June.

Here is my Dark Side talk’s description, which I will do on their Smart Stage Tuesday afternoon of the conference:

An open discussion of significant things we are afraid to address because they are DARK and how to find the “Light”. 

The discussion includes: Narcissistic Leadership, Favoritism, Nepotism, and ignoring the data in everything we do. Hear how HR needs to show courage and find the light in these dark issues. Real life examples and ideas of how to mitigate many of these Dark situations from becoming business killers.

Get a little flavor of the discussion below (email subscribers, click through for the video)…


OMG, this will be a tale of two cities, easy and hard to do all in the same breath. It’s not so difficult talking about the topic so much as what are the best examples to use and how to frame it and still not breach my own confidentiality agreements from prior employers or burn a bridge. For the presentation, I could easily pull from personal experience, but with a restraining order on naming names or places I will more than likely take the high road (or at least stay in the grey area). So, it will blend news, personal and a few examples from colleagues and the Talent community.

I will cover Nepotism, Narcissism, Favoritism, Sexual favors for quid pro quo, and other delightful subtopics.

I am sure to talk about Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and Wells Fargo. I might flavor in some personal soundbites of inappropriateness witnessed and dealt with firsthand. Several examples of sexual relationships including a flop house, an apartment paid for with company funds for inappropriate activity, and a myriad of senior level execs using their power and influence in return for sexual favors.

Illegal activities including the baseball story, or should I say how one of my former organizations sponsored a minor-league baseball team in another country using company funding. Oh, by the way they also used payrolled staff to do all facility maintenance down to cutting the grass and cleaning the restrooms…and no one in the USA knew about it for over a year.

Maybe I will talk about how a former head of sales ran a second business out of his office for 3 years until we tripped over it when a vendor tipped us off. My local HR Director found out but was told not to tell corporate. Definitely HR on the Dark Side…

My favorite subtopic is alcohol abuse and inappropriate behavior in and out of the office. I will certainly dish on leadership drinking at 9 am, 9 pm and the 12 hours in-between. In the office, out of the office and always on company time. Of course I won’t leave out bad language, bad breath and bad decision making under the influence.

I have cognitive dissonance in wanting to show and tell all and at the same time protect the innocent (as well as myself). I certainly don’t want to trigger a “friendly reminder” phone call as I received last year from the head of legal at one of my former organizations. By the way, I am still trying to figure out what part of the conversation was friendly.

I will also talk about the realities of how to deal with these Dark situations and even touch on when the toxins are too much to handle and potentially trigger your exit from your job.

I have always said I should write a book. I bet many of you have the same idea. In fact this is more of a cable or Netflix type mini series. More than enough for at least 2 or 3 seasons. Think House of Lies for the HR crowd. Kristen Bell as an HR VP, now that would be a great comedy/drama.

At every point in my career I have a treasure chest of personal stories. Some are more like pirates’ treasure that should be buried forever. I bet you do too, so I am requesting you contact me if you have a great Dark Side Story that you can share. Just send me an email here. And better yet, for those brave enough, please post your dark side experience right here as a comment. Just be sure to redact anything controversial (don’t name names or companies). I am all for freedom of speech, however, we don’t need a subpoena as a byproduct of a litigation for your breaching a contract to keep quiet. Also, please be courteous with your language, although we are not a family site, we also are not the FML site either…

Can’t wait to hear your true-life stories!