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July 3, 2012
The Dismal Science
The Egos that Consume Corporations
by Adam Smith

In my last column, I wrote about the monster boss who considers his employees as nothing more than assets to be used to climb the corporate ladder. This column will consider another type of boss that is found in the corporate environment.

One of the seven wonders of the world is how large an ego can grow in individuals who progress to senior management positions in a company. As their salaries increase dramatically, their ability to be self-critical decreases by the same proportion. They rarely talk with anyone at work who does not outwardly agree with what they say or who questions any of their decisions.

This has an accumulative effect over time. If everyone agrees with whatever these individuals say or do, they must be geniuses. An ego of someone who considers himself only slightly below omniscience is a wonder to behold.

And every large company has its share.

A symptom of the omniscient manager is the practice that no decision can be made in his area of responsibility except by him. For example, a manager at a corporate headquarters that has hundreds of employees reporting to him does not allow any personnel decisions to be made except by him. Even though he may only see employees out at divisions once or maybe twice a year, only he, through his incredible intellect and insight, is able to determine who should be promoted or, worse, who should be fired.

The employees are rightly confused because there does not seem to be any connection between performance and personnel decisions.

Every once in awhile there is a glimpse of what these omniscient managers think of themselves. I was in a meeting where there was considerable discussion on a particular topic. The senior manager at the meeting indicated what action he wanted to be taken. Someone had the nerve to continue the discussion. He was curtly cut off and told, "God has spoken and the discussion is over." Until that meeting, I did not realize this individual went home to Mount Olympus.

When you are godlike, you cannot lower yourself to the concerns of the common man. A company I worked for once hired some consultants to see if the company should outsource several departments. As expected, the morale in the company was extremely low. The threat of many people losing their jobs does not make work a pleasant experience.

One person from senior management commented to another that it would be good when the consultants left. The second person questioned why that would be. He could not see how the consultants' presence would affect any employee. Ah yes, "Let them eat cake."

The monster and omniscient boss are two examples of what we should not be when we manage people. In the next article I will talk about how we should act.


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