Feb 21, 2019

More from "Moral Mazes"


Managerial cliques as gangs, from p. 39-40 of my copy of Moral Mazes:

The most crucial feature of managerial circles of affiliation is precisely their establishment of informal criteria for admission, criteria that are, it is true, ambiguously defined and subject to constant, often arbitrary, revision. Nonetheless, they are the criteria that managers must master.

At bottom, all of the social contexts of the managerial world seek to discover if one "can feel comfortable" with another manager, if he is someone who "can be trusted," if he is "our kind of guy," or, in short, if he is "one of the gang."

The notion of gang, in fact, insofar as it suggests the importance of leadership, hierarchy, and probationary mechanisms in a bounded but somewhat amorphous group, may more accurately describe relationships in the corporation than the more genteel, and therefore preferable, word "circle."

In any event, just as managers must continually please their boss, their boss's boss, their patrons, their president, and their CEO, so must they prove themselves again and again to each other. Work becomes an endless round of what might be called probationary crucibles. Together with the uncertainty and sense of contingency that mark managerial work, this constant state of probation produces a profound anxiety in managers, perhaps the key experience of managerial work. It also breeds, selects, or elicits certain traits in ambitious managers that are crucial to getting ahead.

On putting in the hours, from p. 51:

Another important meaning of team play is putting in long hours at the office. The norms here are set, of course, by higher-ups and vary from corporation to corporation... Higher level managers in all the corporations I studied commonly spend twelve to fourteen hours a day at the office. This requires a great deal of sheer physical energy and stamina, even though much of this time is spent not in actual work as such, but in social rituals – like reading and discussing articles in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, and Forbes; having informal conversations; casually polling the opinions of participants in upcoming meetings; or popping in and out of other managers' offices with jokes, cartoons, or amusing or enraging journalistic articles. These kinds of readily observable rituals forge the social bonds – what might be called the professional intimacy – that make real managerial work, that is, group work of various sorts, possible. One must participate in the rituals to be considered effective in the work...

For this reason, executives do not like to take extended business trips and many break up their vacations into one-week segments rather than risk being away from the office for too long. The public reason for such attentiveness to one's duties is, of course, one's devotion to the organization. The real reason is a fear that prolonged absence from one's everyday interactional milieux will cause or tempt others to forget that one exists.

Also this, from p. 52:

One of the most damaging things, for instance, that can be said about a manager is that he is brilliant. That almost invariably signals a judgment that the person has publicly asserted his intelligence and is perceived as a threat to others.

Apologies for the gendered language – the book came out in 1988 and is dated in that regard.