Angry CFO Loses Promotion & Temper | Personal Mastery

Imagine you dedicate 20 years of your life to your employer...

You work hard.

You work long hours.

And you feel you are ready to take that next step up the corporate ladder.

So you sit, patiently awaiting for that coveted position to open up...

And then it does...

You have visualized receiving this promotion for years now...and you are ready for it.

Then you learn that it was given to someone else....

What do you do? Where do you go from there?

This is precisely what happened to a colleague of mine, Lucas, a few months ago.


After serving his employer for almost 5 years in the role of CFO, Lucas wanted to become CEO.

After all, he surmised, who better to become CEO than the person who knew more about the finance side of the company than anyone else.

So, when the position opened up but was given to an external who did NOT have a financial background...Lucas was livid.

How could they have passed him over?

Who knew the business better than he did?

He had, after all, spent almost 15 years working for the company, first as a manager, then director, then VP, and finally reaching CFO.

Sadly, he allowed his anger, frustration, and disappointment to all bubble to the surface at once and "flipped out" in the office.

His tirade, I was later told, included blaming his team for not being good enough; accusing the existing CEO for deliberately "screwing" him; and suggesting that the new CEO was incompetent and would cause the entire company to fail.

Following this outburst, his boss, the CEO, strongly recommended that Lucas take a few weeks off and "think long and hard" about his behaviour and what was said.

A week later, once his mego had had a chance to quiet down, I met Lucas for lunch one day to see how he was doing and offer any advice I could, if he was open to it.

Once we exchanged greetings and ordered our meal, Lucas looked me straight in the eye and said, "Gavin, they screwed me."

"How so?" I asked.

Lucas went on to explain to me how he had spent the past four years mastering the business' performance numbers backwards and he had done everything humanly possible (so he believed) to squeeze every last cent of profit out of the company's operations.

He spoke about terminating employees to cut costs and pushing the VP of Sales hard to drive more revenue.

Lucas' explanation of all he had done to benefit his employer lasted for another ten minutes until the server brought our meal...what was an excellent break in my companion's pattern of thought.


"So, Lucas, you didn't get the promotion for a reason...what did they need to see from you to have more seriously considered you as a primary candidate?", I asked.

Without thinking, Lucas answered, "nothing...I did everything."

Skeptically, I asked Lucas to describe for me the background of the successful candidate.

He described someone who had a varied and eclectic background.

Lucas explained that this person had built up a reputation in the industry for his "jack of all trades, master of none" approach to management whereby he chose to have a strong working knowledge of all areas of a business but had not attained a state of mastery in any single Lucas had chosen to do in Finance.

I was starting to better understand the situation.

Lucas believed that the CEO needed to be the best, smartest person in the company...

Maybe not in every area, but at least in one or two.

Therefore, Lucas had believed he was being "proactive" in gaining and maintaining as much financial and quantitative knowledge about the company as possible.

However, this believe had been based on assumption, not the truth.

Based on the person selected, it was obvious that the current CEO felt that his successor needed to understand the challenges faced by the sales team just as well as he understood the company's financial position.

To be effective, this person didn't need to know how to minimize the tax liability of the company...that was why he had a CFO.

Contrary to Lucas's belief that the CEO was supposed to be the person with all of the answers, what the company was looking for in a new CEO was someone who could bring all of the function-specific experts (such as the CFO) to the table and then ask these experts the right questions to get the right answer.

So Lucas had indeed been proactive, but he did so based on assumption and, as a result, actually prevented himself from being the executive the company needed when making their selection.


Next, I asked Lucas what he was going to do next.

Looking ashamed, he said he wasn't sure how he could go back to work after losing him temper like he did.

This was a simple problem to overcome...not easy, but simple.


Lucas needed to go back into the office and take the time to apologize to each and every person present during his outburst for his behaviour. A professional work environment contains certain implied boundaries, many of which Lucas had crossed.

But what if they don't forgive me? What if they look at me differently?

"They may not forgive and this may affect how they see you for a long time", I said.

But, I explained, therein is an important lesson itself. Lucas, in apologizing, is taking ownership over his own behaviour and taking control of how he responds to his outburst.

However, he can't control how others will take the apology. Whether a person chooses to accept the apology or not is solely up to them. All Lucas can do is put the apology out there.

And the truth is, 2% to 5% of people wouldn't accept it...but for their own reasons that, very likely, have nothing to do with Lucas's behaviour specifically.


"So Lucas", I asked as the server removed our plates, "where do you go from here? If you can't be CEO, are you going to stay at the company?"

This question seemed to surprise him before answering, "of course".

Lucas felt that if he left now, he would look like a failure, backing away with his tail between his legs because he didn't get what he wanted.

So I explained to him one of the tenets of the Law of Cooperative Action. Specifically, that all relationships were not meant to be...and a relationship ending, even if that relationship was with a company, was ok. Leaving a relationship isn't a sign of failure, but rather one of needs.

If one party's needs are no longer being met within that relationship...and it is ascertained that these needs never will be...then it is natural to go where the needs can be fulfilled.

Now, sometimes these perceived needs aren't really that important to us and we can walk away mentally...meaning that we can get over not having these needs met without feeling we are losing our sense of self.

However, if this isn't the case and each day at work all Lucas can think about his how he isn't CEO...that is a recipe for disaster and dooms his relationship with the new CEO to a state of dysfunction.

The choice, however, was his and his alone.


I got a call from Lucas a couple of weeks ago.

He hold me that he had decided that each and every day that he went into work at his company, he would be reminded that "he wasn't good enough" to get the promotion.

So not too long after our lunch, (but after he went and apologized to everyone, he pointed out), he resigned from his CFO role.

He found a new job that he is very optimistic about.

He is now the General Manager for a food and beverage manufacturer...and he took this role specifically because it exposed him to ALL areas of the company's operations, not merely one functional silo.

Lucas's goal is still to become CEO one day, but when he next applies for such a role he will do so equipped with a more in-depth knowledge and understanding of the non-financial aspects of business and the underlying factors that drive their performance, which previously had only existed as numbers to him on performance reports and financial statements.


There are a few morals of this story that I want to draw attention to.

First, business isn't Finance, Sales, HR, or Marketing. Business happens (and succeeds) where all of these things overlap in an effective, harmonious way.

This means being the smartest person in the company in any one area doesn't immediately qualify you to run the entire company...just that one part.

Second, trust that the people who run the company...senior management...are pretty smart people. They didn't get to where they are by being dumb. So...if they do something you don't agree with, that you feel isn't smart, take the time to "understand the interaction"....meaning, find out why they did what they did.

Third, get over yourself. You mego wants you to believe that you are irreplaceable. You are not. It wants you to believe that you are the ONLY person with a brain in the entire company. You are not. It always wants you to believe that anything that negatively affects you is a personal attack against you. It is not.

Fourth, if you think you have caused harm to anyone in any way, honestly apologize. However, do not own their acceptance of your apology.

Lastly, recognize that not all relationships are meant to be. So, if going into work every day makes your gut shrivel up into a little ball...maybe it is time to seek opportunities elsewhere...the only one forcing you to stay in the relationship you are in with your employer is you.