Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Crazy and Not in a Good Way

Consider me the Anti-Carly.
Being a business person exposes you to lots of people.  Most are hardworking attempting to a make a living and support their families.  Others seem muddle along in a lazy haze and others are so cutthroat you would be nervous if you left children in their presence.  It just comes with the territory.  Still, it amazes me to this day how many mentally ill, damaged and just plain mean people I meet in the course of my career.  Usually they wind up as my managers or as a client.  These individuals take all the joy out of doing business.  In fits of despair, I cry to heavens and ask why. 

Business week gave me a little insight into this existential problem.   According to author Jon Ronson, many people who are business leaders fit the operational definition of psychopathy.  In fact, many corporate leaders score “alarmingly high.”  I suppose this is because many business leaders crave power and strive to be in charge; just look at Ken Lay, Al Dunlap and Carly Fiorina.  All of those individuals tended to view others as mere tools to be used, were concerned about their personal brand over what best for their organization and when the stuff hit the fan, abdicated any personal responsibility for what happened.  I encountered similar behavior in the advertising and gift card business. 

Business schools for the last ten years have been railing against this kind of behavior.  Two of my favorite books on the subject are Primal Leadership by Daniel Goelman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee and The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton.  Both books illustrate the damage to the bottom line jerks cause.  Still when I go out in the business community, I see an abundance of people who exhibit this kind of deviant behavior and consider it an acceptable way to conduct business.  Again, I ask why. 

I turn again back to the business week and they say researcher David McClelland divided workers into three groups:  those who need power, those who need to achieve and those who want to be liked.  The ones who excel at achievement and being liked wind up as customer service representatives while those who crave power get the corner office.  In the Social Darwinism of the office, those who need power often get their fix at the expense of others.  More troubling, when these individuals are held accountable for their actions by employees they have the power to hire and fire.  This is creating a feedback loop of fear and repression at the office.  It stinks and it explains why innovation takes place at startup companies which are purchased by larger corporations. 

I know I will be forced to be a jerk from time to time starting up my own business.  I will have to fire people for poor performance.  I will also have to make some difficult decisions but that does not mean that I have to become like Lay, Dunlap or Fiorina.  Being an entrepreneur is a touch crazy but I hope that it is crazy in a good way rather than the psychopathic fashion that is all too common in business.