Managers Can Know They're Being Evil

It has been remarked that I am far too cynical.

Yes, obviously.

But I have some evidence to support this position. In particular, I wanted to address the assertion that I'm too harsh on managers as a class. I will concede that I know a handful of excellent managers - the ratio is maybe 1:20? I only want to talk about the most pathological case today.

I. Micromanagers

Firstly, there are managers that micromanage everything, and are absolutely toxic personalities. At a guess, this seems to be about half of them. Many are totally pleasant outside of management contexts, but when they get power, there is some grotesque symbiosis with all their underlying neuroses, and they just absolutely ruin months or years of people's lives. They think their job is to ensure that their worker ants are getting each individual task done on schedule, and this naturally selects for people who have similarly ugly tendencies or who lack the self-confidence to do better for themselves.

You see, for those readers even younger than myself, I would argue that the most important thing you can select for in life is the quality of the people you spend time with. This means that your partner in a relationship should be open to hard conversations without you feeling unduly anxious, your friends shouldn't be fucking morons gun-slinging drama at high noon every day, and you 100% do not tolerate managers that infantilize or belittle you in any way (unless you desperately need the money).

The net result is that all the mature adults eventually leave such managers with a few exceptions, leaving only personalities that either can only work with clear direction every few hours (which is sometimes fine), those who treat people like garbage because they haven't learned to identify those behaviours as deleterious, and people whose self-confidence is so low that they can't get work elsewhere.

And of course, many of these managers aren't pleasant outside of management contexts. The corporate world naturally selects for some extremely ugly personality traits. I've seen someone on a few million dollars a year bully restaurant staff for one free dish at a restaurant and shush a child at the table that pointed it out.

II. Is It Deliberate?

I may have noted the above case before as strong evidence that at least some people do not behave badly because of some deliberate strategy. They've just gotten stuck at some very low level of social maturity, and will simply throw their toys out of the pram at any sign of resistance in any social setting.

A friend asked me how they succeed yesterday, and I said I let them. These people are fucking nuts. When I realize I'm talking to one of them, I just let them have whatever they want.

The slightest sign of resistance is going to cause them to undermine me at every opportunity that is available to them for the remainder of their stay with the organization. I could possibly fight back by virtue of not being (as much of) a dickhead, but that would be incredibly tiring and save the organization money, not me. Or I could lose and get annihilated, which I've seen before at more than one organization. Or just... let them have whatever, it's the company's money, not mine, and they chose to hire this sicko. I'm not the corporate police.

But with that said... there are a surprising number of managers that know exactly what they're doing. Some people are just smart and connect the dots.

A few months ago, I was approached by a director, who we will call Owen, at work, who didn't quite recognize me. You see, I'd worked at this organization before in a different, distant team. However, now I worked in a non-management capacity for the man that Owen currently hated, Steve, because Steve was asking hard questions about a failing project and it was highlighting Owen's blistering incompetence.

Owen sidled up to me and someone else, and started venting a little bit. Truth be told, I felt a bit bad for him. I'd always known he was a grifter, and not a particularly good one, but he seemed harmless. Plus, most projects here failed anyway, so it's not like he was drastically altering outcomes for the negative. If not Owen failing, then someone else.

Then he said two things that totally changed my mind about him.

Firstly, he joked about being extremely excited to start managing a new platform next year, because "no one cares about it - you can just do anything and never get in trouble". It was funny, because he was absolutely correct that I could literally just do nothing for years and never be caught on that platform if I was in his position, but it also indicated an awareness that he knew exactly what he was doing. Here was a director, who had the pressure of being a bullshit artist simply hit critical mass, and he just had to vent to the nearest person that openly had a sense of humor in the office. He was 100% aware of the dynamics at play at the organization, and that cast his behavior into a totally new light.

Secondly, he quietly started dropping hints that the director I work for was "getting defensive", not realizing that I worked for his archnemesis. He was very transparently trying to kick off the old rumor mill after deciding I was friendly. Again, that son of a bitch knows exactly what he's doing, within his own limited capacities. Imagine how dangerous someone actually smart would be in that position.

In my experience, a lot of managers behave exactly like this guy. That's in my personal experience, which I think some readers will resonate with. But for others, more dubious, I recommend the book Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers by Robert Jackall, which reveals that a lot of these people are pretty savvy in political matters, if not management matters, once again revealing that management is really not the main goal of managers in dysfunctional settings.

A simple litmus test for the truth of his book is whether your organization restructures when you get a new member of the C-suite in charge? If the answer is yes, then all that stuff is probably happening, either in the open or from a position you can't see.


Which leads me to my main point, which is the wonder of a man literally named "Jackal" deciding to investigate a pack of corporate managers.