The manager as deity January 26, 2011 at 6:06 am

Aditya Chakrabortty writing in the Guardian rightly points out the dangerous tendency for CEOs to act more like cult leaders than managers. He gives Steve Jobs as the architypical example of this tendency:

Jobs is part of a widespread trend among chief executives to put themselves forward not as managers, but as leaders. Follow the coverage of the Davos summit this week and count the number of times a corporate finance officer for some accounting-software company or other is described as a business leader…

If this were just self-delusion, then the consequences would not be too bad. But of course it has been used to justify the enormous increase in CEO compensation compared with the average worker:

The result has been a tremendous boost in chief-executive power, according to Dennis Tourish, an academic at Kent University. He points out that just before Enron imploded it was run like a cult, with Jeff Skilling exercising huge control and influence over who was recruited, how they worked – and who got laid off. And while Enron was an exception, Tourish points out that Jack Welch as boss of General Electric had similar power. “Business leaders typically only have yes-men – no one to stand up to them.”

These days you get to the top by taking bold decisions – which bold decisions doesn’t matter much as it is pretty much luck what will work – and then claiming the credit for whatever goes well while ruthlessly supressing talk of failures. Do that enough, and with luck you will get to the point where it becomes (for a while at least) self sustaining. You’re now a leader so you should be paid millions, right? Not so much…

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