Telstra and Fake Stephen Conroy – Dealing With Mavericks

“’Have we made it impossible for bright rising stars and maverick go-getters to live within our organisation?’ When we become too preoccupied with policy, procedure, and the fine-tuning of conformity to organizational standards, in effect, we have squeezed out some of our most gifted people.” – Hans Finzel, “The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make”
(via The Practice Of Leadership)

Telstra’s ongoing failure to realize what a gift Leslie Nassar is for them boggles my mind.

But not really. I’ve had first hand experience with how poorly large organizations in Australia handle mavericks.

When I left Microsoft in 2004, it was partly a result of my blogging and slightly critical comments I made about Microsoft in a blog post. Like Telstra, Microsoft’s local management at the time felt it was unconscionable for an employee to say something negative about the company in public. And I wasn’t even saying something negative about their products, in fact it was the opposite. I said the products were great but the marketing didn’t reflect that. Which, let’s face it, wasn’t the world’s best kept secret. Everyone knew that then, as now, companies like Apple and IBM were stomping all over Microsoft’s marketing. I was just speaking what I felt was the truth. That, apparently, wasn’t one of Microsoft “core values”. Anyway, things got nasty, and I resigned.

Now – I’m not saying I’m the world’s smartest bloke, but I think in the five years since I’ve left Microsoft, I’ve demonstrated that I can do a thing or two. I think I have some potential. Could Microsoft have used that potential? Could they have embraced and extended my maverickness for their own benefit? Perhaps.

I think the same thing when I read what’s going on with Leslie at Telstra. He’s obviously demonstrated that he’s a clever and creative personality. He’s generated lots of press even before he was outed. Surely a smart company (and a smart manager) would be thinking “Let’s figure out how to use someone like this to our advantage”, and not “let’s crush him if he doesn’t fall into line”. I’ve met his big boss, Telstra’s CTO, Hugh Bradlow, a few times over the years. I’ve even done a few podcasts with him over the last year. He’s obviously a very smart guy.

But let’s be honest – Telstra has brand problems. Stop ten people at random in the street and ask them what they think about Telstra and what do you think you’ll hear? Good reports or bad reports? Surely this is a company that could benefit from someone who is smart, sassy, funny and cheeky.

Don’t fire Leslie – give him his own show on Telstra Media. Turn him into the new John Clarke.

If I had the funds, or if I was running Optus, I’d hire him in a heartbeat.

Then again, if they fire him they might be doing him a favour. It’ll give him a chance to land at a company that values people with original ideas.

UPDATE (1.45pm 26 March): Leslie sets the record straight and tells Hugh Bradlow to go fuck himself.

9 thoughts on “Telstra and Fake Stephen Conroy – Dealing With Mavericks

  1. Hear, hear. Well said. Couldn’t agree more. My God, I’ve got a story or two along the same lines. And so forth.

    Organisations are like playgrounds: they will eat anyone who is different because the difference causes them to ask uncomfortable questions about themselves.

  2. To be clear, I wasn’t trying to be a maverick.

    I was fine with being told to drop FSC. I just wanted Telstra to correct the Now We Are Talking post where they claimed they hadn’t instructed to do so. They refused, I spoke publicly, they complied, and they were embarrassed.

    It’s inconceivable that anyone should stand for being privately gagged by their employer, and then be expected to sit idly by as said employer shrugs their shoulders in public and says “what gag?”

    On Thursday morning, I asked Hugh to email his directive that I should stop Twittering and blogging. He refused. If a spoken request is reasonable, what’s the harm in providing the same request in writing?

    Hugh’s assertion that I “didn’t have the manners to speak to his colleagues first” is patently, provably untrue. I sent at least two emails and a Twitter DM asking Hickenbotham to stop perpetuating the PP&C untruths, and he continued. So I spoke publicly out of frustration with a naughty word, and /that’s/ what Hugh has a problem with. Nevermind that PP&C the very next day had to fess in a subsequent post.

    It took a lot of convincing to move to Melbourne and work for Telstra. I was skeptical, but they spun a good story about how the culture had changed. And I think it’s true; I think parts of Telstra have changed, but the culture is the culture. And the status quo is of great importance to those middle managers that have been with Telstra for a decade or more; they have fat redundancies to protect, and no transferable skills.

    I am not willing to commit my loyalty to any person or organization that is unwilling to reciprocate.

    Fuck ’em.

  3. Leslie, whether you were trying to be a maverick or not, you were BEING one. I’m not talking about during the aftermath, I’m talking about when you were writing FSC anonymously. Anyway mate, you know most of us are on your side, I’m sure you’ll trade up when you leave. Whatever you do, make sure you leverage your new brand profile into something bigger and better.

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