Today in Terrible Bosses: Dave Ramses II

From Dave Ramsey’s Twitter feed

There are moments when I realize that I am somewhat out of touch with mainstream America. Like when I read a headline about Dave Ramsey and my immediate response is, “Oh, yeah, is that the founder of Wendy’s?” In case you, like me, have been somewhat out of it, living on the coasts for a while or whatever, the answer is no. Dave Ramsey is an incredibly successful conservative Christian financial advice guru:

famous for his gospel of “financial peace,” “Biblically based, common sense” wisdom on debt, investing, and retirement. Exploding out of the evangelical Christian world and onto the national stage, he has sold millions of books, hosts a popular radio show, and runs an organization that boasts more than 400 employees. Eight million people listen to The Dave Ramsey Show, 400 publications run his “Dave Says” column, and more than 2 million families have participated in Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. According to Ramsey, his Lampo Group sells “hope,” and that business has given him an estimated net worth of $55 million.

Wow, “hope” is pretty damn lucrative. But as this Daily Beast profile relates, in giddy detail, no amount of money can make a sensitive person immune to criticism or a crazy person less crazy. His disproportionately enraged response to “negative chatter” has some of his staff calling him Dave “Ramses II.” Which, of course, only makes him angrier. And then somehow Jesus gets involved?

Ramsey, who is on the record as abhorring gossip and negativity in general, is apoplectic about some current and former employees who have spoken out against him, even in mild or humorous ways:

The battle between Ramsey and the former Lamponians came to a head on May 12, during another staff meeting. According to three current employees, Ramsey chose a handful of the Facebook group’s members, former employees and plastered their pictures, their family members’ pictures, and screenshots of their private conversations on a large screen for all of his 400-plus employees to see. Amid his rant, Ramsey even mentioned that he had contacted the local police department and the FBI.

Later that day, Ramsey organized a meeting with the operators of several of the parody Twitter accounts, the same people he’d just shamed in front of his staff. Without asking if they wanted to meet, he called a couple of their pastors, reserved a private room at the restaurant Boscos in Franklin, Tennessee, and scheduled a meeting time. … Treating the confrontation with his critics as an attempt at spiritual reconciliation was consistent with what numerous employees described as the typical Ramsey approach, one familiar among evangelical institutions who blur the boundaries between church and business. Leaders like Ramsey often refuse to see disagreement as anything but spiritual rebellion.

The story goes on, getting even more bonkers: “’This is the guy who once pulled a loaded pistol out of a gift bag to teach us a lesson about gossip,’ said one former employee. ‘It was bizarre, even for Ramsey.’” Oh goody! Just what America needs. Another angry white man with a gun.

The portrait of the climate inside Lampo contrasts sharply with Ramsey’s reputation in the evangelical Christian world, where he has been praised for “practicing what he preaches,” and even beyond, where the Nashville Business Journal lauded Lampo as one of the citys best places to work. Current and former employees say that, though they believe in the Lampo mission and felt like Ramsey’s team was a “family,” their daily experience of working for him and his leadership staff was dominated by fear.

“There are plenty of former employees recovering from the abuse there,” said one ex-employee, “similar to my fundamentalist upbringing.” A current Lampo employee who hopes to leave soon, added, “This place is awesome as long as you never complain and never tell anybody you’re thinking about leaving.”

I’ve had some pretty terrible bosses and it’s funny how they look so normal at first. It’s only after you work for them for a while that you realize that they’re monsters: they enjoy firing people, throwing pencils at employees, telling employees they can’t go to the Emergency Room even when it turns out that they — okay I, it was me, I — had a kidney infection. (True story! The ER doctor was like, “Good thing you came in, your kidney could’ve died,” and I was like, “Can I have that in writing?”) (And like gosh, you know? Come on. Even the Geneva Conventions protect against organ failure.) The boss who fired me while I was taking out the trash never bothered to learn to spell my name. Another boss mismanaged our company so badly that the editorial staff had to be laid off en masse — and he conveniently avoided work that day.

The key takeaway from this Dave Ramsey kerfuffle seems to be that bad bosses are everywhere, in religious organizations and secular ones, in corporations and non-profits, and, of course, in tech. They are hard to avoid because they look just like everyone else. But once you recognize that you are working for a Ramses II, or a Queen of Hearts who shouts “Off with his head!” all day long, what choice do you have, especially in a poor economy? Not everyone can take off and go work for Dave Thomas instead.

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