The McChrystal Effect: Mouthing Off To Your Boss Can Get You Fired

Gen. Stanley McChrystal resigned after he insulted the Obama administration.

June 23, 2010, 2:19 PM

June 24, 2010 — -- No one, not even a high-ranking military official, can bad mouth the boss with immunity.

Dissing the guy in the corner office often has the same effect in the civilian world as it does for someone like Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

David McDowell got the ax at a credit union where he worked in Navarre, Ohio, after he was caught talking about his boss with another employee.

"In the workplace you have to be very careful who you speak to because you don't know who it will get back to," said McDowell. "It could be a small credit union like my case or a large company or it could be the [President of the United States]."

McDowell told that he was fired after he told a female co-worker who had been out of work taking care of her injured son that the CEO of the company was thinking about replacing her.

"My co-worker confronted the CEO and I was fired for not addressing this with the CEO directly, even though she had been the one to commit the infraction," said McDowell. "I believed I did the right thing and still stand by it even though it cost me my job."

"I was pretty darn shocked," McDowell said of his firing. "I think that they didn't like that I was speaking up."

McDowell said that he thinks he got fired not only for the comment he made to his co-worker, but also because he had spoken up in the past about other procedures at the bank that he didn't think were working.

Lou from Dallas, Texas, said that he had to beg for his job after his manager found out that he had thrown a temper tantrum after he angrily left a meeting.

"I messed up and got frustrated and a bit angry at my office manager, so I went to my desk and threw my papers down and said a cuss word," he said. "I got called in [by my boss] and was forced to beg for my job."

Arrogance and Stress May Lead to Bad Mouthing the Boss

Dr. Roy Lubit, a psychiatrist who also authored the book "Coping with Toxic Managers, Subordinates … and Other Difficult People," said that a slip of the tongue in the workplace can happen to anyone who isn't careful.

"There is a tremendous variation of people who might throw things out of their mouth without thinking about the consequences," said Lubit.

"People who may be somewhat narcissist or arrogant sometimes feel like they're entitled to speak up and say stuff about their boss regardless of how appropriate it is," he said.

In the case of McChrystal, who was relieved of his command Wednesday after he and his staff ridiculed allies and his bosses in Washington in an article in Rolling Stone, Lubit suggests that stress may have been a factor.

"Anytime you have tremendous stress [negative remarks] seep out and if you have a group of people who support each other then you have a contentious group dynamic" said Lubit.

McChrystal has lived a life of stress from being a hell raiser at West Point to running the country's special forces and until this week being the top general in charge of the Afghan war. But he had also developed over the years a reputation for shooting from the lip, often being blunt and abrasive.

Lubit said that impulses to say things about a boss can get the best of anyone and that it's important to remember to have some "decorum in the workplace and to self-censor."

"These people who say the wrong thing aren't necessarily bad people or inherently mean people, they just all of a sudden step over the line," he said. "They just slip into arrogance under stress."

Such arrogance has been on display before among U.S. generals and the results have almost always been the same.

Other Presidents Have Fired Other Generals

President Abraham Lincoln famously fired Gen. George McClellan during the Civil War in 1862 after he reportedly referred to the president as a "well meaning baboon."

And in 1951, President Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur after the general, whose popularity outranked the president's at the time, publicly criticized Truman's handling of war strategy.

Truman later told biographer Merle Miller that he fired MacArthur because "he wouldn't respect the authority of the President."

Gen. Eric Shinseki angered the Bush White House when he testified before Congress it would take hundreds of thousands of troops and a lot more money to invade Iraq than Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was allocating to the war. Shinseki wasn't fired, but White House displeasure is widely believed to have led to his resignation.