The ‘crying CEO’ sacked two people then posted a weeping selfie on LinkedIn. No wonder the backlash was swift | Arwa Mahdawi


Braden Wallake had a difficult choice to make. The 32-year-old CEO of HyperSocial, a marketing agency, had just sacked two of his 17 employees and needed to choose between quietly helping the newly unemployed pair move on with their lives and turning their misfortune into self-aggrandising online content.

You guessed it: Wallake chose option two. You see, no one really thinks about CEOs’ feelings. Wallake wanted everyone to know that chief executives are humans, too. They get hurt and feel pain just like mere mortals do. So, he snapped a selfie of himself crying and posted it on LinkedIn, along with an inspirational message about what a great guy he was.

“This will be the most vulnerable thing I’ll ever share,” he wrote. “Days like today, I wish I was a business owner that was only money driven and didn’t care about who he hurt along the way. But I’m not. So, I just want people to see, that not every CEO out there is cold-hearted and doesn’t care when he/she have to lay people off.” Then he clicked “post” and sat back to watch the likes roll in.

Quite a few likes did come in – but not at the same pace as the backlash. Rather than being floored by how “vulnerable” Wallake had been, the consensus seemed to be that the guy was a tone-deaf narcissist. The post went viral and the “crying CEO” quickly became a meme.

Internet detectives started mining Wallake’s online history and discovered that he had donated to the World Wildlife Fund in July to financially support a sea otter. This would be a sweet thing to do in normal circumstances, but doesn’t sit so well if you are the internet’s baddy du jour.

“Maybe it’s not a great idea to adopt a sea lion [sic] at the beginning of a recession?” one person snarked in Wallake’s comments. Meanwhile, news outlets started taking an interest; Wallake’s crying selfie was picked up by the Washington Post, the New York Post, Fast Company and more.

People make fools of themselves on the internet every day. The reason this particular piece of content generated so much attention is that Wallake’s performative empathy is a perfect encapsulation of everything that is irritating about LinkedIn and, by extension, everything that is wrong with corporate culture.

LinkedIn used to be a handy but unexciting online Rolodex. In recent years, however, it has become a cesspit of toxic positivity and a temple to cringe. There is a subreddit called LinkedInLunatics that catalogues “insufferable LinkedIn content”.

It is not enough for people to be CEOs, entrepreneurs or middle managers any more; they also have to be inspirational thought-leaders. LinkedIn is now a self-help blogging platform for business types. As an aside, they all seem to be incapable of writing properly, using single-sentence paragraphs instead. This form of writing has been called “broetry” – and it is brery brirritating.

Amid all the cringe, there is a silver lining. Once upon a time, a man would be mercilessly mocked for crying in public. Wallake, however, was mocked mainly for the performative nature of his crying, rather than the crying itself.

It has become a lot more acceptable for men to express emotion in public. Indeed, crying seems to be all the rage among male leaders – a quick way to express authenticity and prove you are not an unfeeling robot.

Andrew Cuomo, the former governor of New York, shed tears during some of his daily Covid briefings. So did Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles. Matt Hancock, Britain’s health secretary when Covid emerged, was brought to (fake-looking) tears on TV after the vaccine was introduced. Malcolm Gladwell shed tears this month when he told a podcast host how horrible it was that people were still working from home.

So, what is the moral of this story? Well, in true LinkedIn fashion, I will give you a list of three key learnings.

1 Crying is cool now.

2 LinkedIn is insufferable.

3 Don’t adopt a sea otter at the beginning of a recession.

Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist



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