Idiosyncrasy at the top

There is many a perk associated with rising up the organization hierarchy – corner office, expense budgets, free lunches with clients and so on. But, perhaps the most coveted one is not measured in monetary terms.

One can generously refer to this as ‘being yourself’. ‘free to do what you want’ and other similar terms. However, the correct notation would be to call it out for what it actually is – idiosyncrasy. The most visible aspect of the C-suite executive  – how one behaves – is also the most privileged part of the position.

There are the simple behavioral patterns such as not (never) being on time or not reading any reports. Get a bit more aggressive and you have exhibits like texting or calling up subordinates at ungodly hours and assigning (non)urgent tasks; or disturbing people at work to discuss imaginary business scenarios or trivial matters. 

Many times, it feels like the very things that you are told not to do when you are a lower level minion in the organization become badges of honor when you are at the top. ‘Do not yell when someone else is talking’, ‘Don’t fall asleep while you are in a meeting’, ‘Don’t swear at others’ – are some of the low level thresholds that are routinely breached at the top.

But, wait … there is more (of course). Not being focused, known as multi-tasking in corporate jargon, is a major privilege at the top. Whether it is reviewing the sales strategy for the next year(s) or attending a meeting for the introduction of a new software system in the organization, the rule remains the same – don’t come prepared and don’t focus on what is going on. Keep texting and look harassed (remember, the C-suite is always solving serious world problems). And to keep others on edge, randomly ask questions like, “Why do you say that?”, “Isn’t there a better way to do this?” and send people and topics into a tailspin.   

‘Innovation’ is another powerful weapon used by the C-Executive to dispatch people down endless rabbit holes repeatedly. Under the garb of making matters worse, I mean better, the hapless subordinates – Directors, department heads, programmers and janitors – could be asked to redraft presentation material, improve business models, redesign offices or rehash company product lines without a clue as to what the objective (if any) is. It keeps everyone working, often at cross purposes, without achieving any results – for which they can be blamed later.

By far the greatest idiosyncrasy, in terms of collateral damage, is when the boss decides to ‘connect’ with people in the organization. These highly undesirable incidents happen in the form of town halls, by barging into meetings where there is a critical mass of people or simply by descending on a group of unsuspecting employees in the break room. Starting with a simple, “Hey, how is it going?”, the conversation quickly moves up a notch to, “How did the customer receive the latest release of our product?” and, after a few minutes of not listening to what is being said, ends disastrously with one of the following outcomes:

  1. some essential meetings are cancelled
  2. a tangential, incompatible or even infeasible change is made to an established product or process
  3. a bunch of senior executives are assigned (in absentia, of course) a set of initiatives that will distract them from all of their regular duties

No wonder there are designated individuals – often with titles such as Secretary and Executive Assistant – in every organization, whose job it is to minimize the effect of the idiosyncrasies of their bosses by eliminating the flow of information to and from their masters!