Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Would You Fire This Man?

Here are a couple of articles about the value of eccentric (or even obnoxious) but highly capable "employees" whose implications are somewhat ambiguous. The Boston Globe presents us with the following scenario, in which an "employee" who while "having made major contributions to the team in the past, and while brilliant and witty, he's moody to the point that he misses work and might be manic-depressive. He's also fat, speaks with a bit of a lisp, is a heavy drinker and something of a loose canon, expressing with gusto radical views, some offensive to minorities." The article asks what you would do with such an individual, then concludes that most managers would consider him a liability and give me the heave-ho. It turns out they would end up firing Winston Churchill.

Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal article which inspired the Globe article discusses the crackdown on executive behavior - which is not really employee behavior. It critiques the recent move to cashier those high-level managers who are delinquent in sexual, financial or criminal ways. The fact is, a lot of these executives are bosses, and dismissing them for bad behavior would be in the same spirit as the monitoring of executive compensation. The point is that you should want to out the abuses of the big boys at the top, and to let them know they won't be tolerated - not to let them get away with hijinks that betray their employees, their shareholders or the reputations of the companies they represent. Some folks, of course, think otherwise. Winston Churchill himself was a boss, and what's good enough for him should be good enough for Dennis Kozlowski and Donald Trump. Right? It is part of the libertarian mindset that the peccadillos of "geniuses" should be not only tolerated but indulged, and this attitude has wrought havoc with the American economy and the morale of the average worker. The overweening greed of top executives is one eccentricity they share more than any other.

The sobriquet of "genius" is generally applied by inference. If you are on top, you got there because you were a "genius". Although the recent indulgence of corporate kingpins has been very generous, it runs side by side with an entirely different trend. Mere "employees", because they are "employees", cannot be "geniuses" by virtue of their humble status, and their quirks need not be tolerated in any way, shape or form. In fact, the more we forgive the wayward behavior of boardroom "geniuses", the more we worship rank for its own sake, and the less likely we are to indulge mere workers no matter how brilliant they might be. Perhaps even the act of allowing yourself to be bossed around by someone else forever robs you of "genius" potential despite your IQ. If you happen to think you've got what it takes, you might just be better off working for yourself.

"Eccentric geniuses worth the trouble they cause" from The Boston Globe
"Personal boundaries shrink as companies punish bad behavior" originally from The Wall Street Journal

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