It takes a mature leader to accept full responsibility when things go wrong. It takes courage to take a good hard look in the mirror and face reality. It takes savvy to admit failure, learn from the experience, and move on.
Apparently, RadiumOne’s ousted chief executive Gurbaksh Chahal is none of those things. His recent behavior provides a dramatic example of how an entrepreneur can let success go to his head, publicly self-destruct, and damage his own and his company’s reputation.
Chahal, who founded the advertising-tech company five years ago, was fired in April after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor counts of battery and domestic violence battery. That led to a social media firestorm calling for his ouster, and RadiumOne’s board did just that.
Instead of handling this self-inflicted crisis as a mature executive would, Chahal made a bad situation worse by painting himself as the victim while publicly threatening and angrily lashing out at those he believes wronged him.
In chronic blog posts and tweets that, because of his own relentless self-promotion, have been widely reported in the media, the mercurial entrepreneur remarkably blames everyone but himself for his situation and breaks every single rule of crisis management in the process.
In an 18-paragraph rant dramatically titled “ Can You Handle the Truth?,” Chahal defended himself by replaying every detail of the night that led to a 45-count felony indictment for allegedly attacking his girlfriend in his San Francisco apartment.
But there was absolutely no reason for that.
The felony charges had already been dropped when a judge threw out a key piece of evidence – a 30-minute videotape of the alleged assault from Chahal’s own bedroom surveillance camera – and his girlfriend refused to cooperate with prosecutors.
So why bring it all up again? I guess Chahal just had to tell his side of the story to the whole world. And that – incredibly – included him blaming the entire incident on finding out that his girlfriend had been “having unprotected sex for money with other people.”
Yes, he really did write that. And no, publicly calling your girlfriend a prostitute is not a good idea if you want to gain support, engender empathy and maybe keep your job.
Chahal also claimed the police “violently assaulted” him when responding to the 911 call and called the district attorneys “a pack of rabid dogs coming after me.” He even somehow managed to blame the incident and the ensuing charges on his status as a wealthy entrepreneur: “Celebrities in sports, entertainment and business, and high net worth individuals in general are all potential targets. It was only a matter of time when I would fall prey.”
In his most recent tirade, “ An Open Letter to the Board of RadiumOne : Greed, Betrayal, Dishonesty,” Chahal takes aim at his former company’s board of directors, whining about how they abandoned him when he needed their support and threatening them with “severe legal consequences” for terminating him.
What really struck me, however, was the way he blames his own decision to avoid trial and accept a plea deal on the board and the company’s impending IPO. He essentially says they agreed on that course of action, then turned around and caved to a social-media lynch mob.
“And what did I do to deserve this,” he says, “When all I’ve ever done is to put the interests of you and the Company ahead of my own?”
I have a somewhat different take on what transpired. I don’t think Chahal accepted the plea deal because he thought it would be best for the company. He’s a smart guy. He knew that was one of the most important decisions he would ever make in his life.
I think he did it because he wanted to be CEO of a public company. It was a calculated decision – one that didn’t pan out because of Chahal’s own behavior. He alone got himself into trouble and his own ill-advised actions fueled the flames that turned a manageable crisis into a firestorm.
The board did the right thing. As their only statement on the subject indicates, they had no choice:
“While we have not seen Chahal’s complaint of wrongful termination, such a complaint would be without merit. Gurbaksh Chahal’s own actions impaired his ability to lead RadiumOne as CEO and gave the board no choice but to terminate his employment and name a new CEO.”
To promote his latest temper tantrum to the media, Chahal took to Twitter, where he calls those who dutifully reported the facts of the story “drama queens.” If that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black, I don’t know what is. I’ve seen plenty of executives deep in denial, over the years, but Chahal’s view of reality is remarkably skewed.
Had he handled the crisis he created like a mature executive instead of indulging his overinflated ego and delusions of grandeur, there’s a chance that Chahal might still be running RadiumOne. Maybe someday he’ll grow up and see that, but I doubt it.
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