Monday, July 19, 2010

CEO Archetypes: #4 The Michael Scott

"I swore to myself that if I ever got to walk around the room as manager people would laugh when they saw me coming, and would applaud as I walked away."  Michael Scott

The Michael Scott: Blowhard, credit-grabbing, narcissistic, boorish, name-dropper who waits to figure out where everyone has decided to go, then runs to the head of the line and declares themselves the leader.

Hell, we have all run into this character a time or two in low-level managerial positions.  They are harmless at that level, which is why we find Steve Carrell funny.  But, let one of them sneak into the C-Suite and you have big trouble on your hands.

What is funny/pathetic in a half-hour sitcom, is just not that charming 90+ hours of every week. 

I have worked for both a Michael and a Michelle Scott during my career and for obvious reasons I am not using their real names.  I have met a few others as a consultant...but recognized the type and did not take the gig.  It seems there are a few of these Peter-Principle-Validators out there.  Other of my cohorts have similar stories about low skilled, ego-centric leaders who just do not get it.

I came to believe that my Michael/Michelle suffered from what I call the Big-Ego-Low-Self-Esteem Syndrome.  Like Groucho Marx, they could not respect any institution that would include them or any person that would work for them.  Also, they have to remind you every single minute that they are in the room.  All eyes on them at all times.  They are desperate for this attention because they are afraid that if they do not draw your focus to them every second, you will forget them.  They are right about this, if they did not have their position power, they would probably never cross your mind.

Michael Scotts are the MBA's who always mention their MBA program.  Even if they finished it 20+ years ago.  They usually attended a good school.  How they got accepted is a mystery.  To be fair, the Michael Scotts are not really dumb.  They are just not quite smart enough to lead smart people.  They know this at the lizard level of their brain and that is the genesis of some of their issues.  So, they desperately try to associate themselves with authentic leaders, real or fictional.

One of the Michaels was obsessed with Steve Ballmer of Microsoft and was constantly invoking Steve's rumored management tactic of arbitrarily cutting 20% from everyone's budget.  I tried to explain that Ballmer was in a very different business, that those stories were totally out of context and that Microsoft was at a different stage of development.  All to no avail...Michael replied that he and Steve saw things through the same lens.  Then he compared himself and his never-met-but-best-buddy, Steve Ballmer to John Galt.  Oh, dear.

The problem with the Michael Scott archetype is that they are so clueless that they are clueless.  Having risen far above their level of incompetence, they have decided that valuing competence must be avoided at all costs.  They believe that divine providence has bestowed leadership upon them.  So, with no value placed on personal competence, they devalue the hard work around them and are disrespectful of all accomplishment (except that which they have specifically prescribed).  If they did not think of it, it just doesn't count.

This is not just arrogant, this type is an ego in search of an intellect.

The truth is, this type cannot tolerate any input but their own.  I never saw either of my Michael Scotts seek the input of their team once.  Not on any topic. Ever.  Of course, they appropriate any good idea a member of their team came up with.  One Michael insisted to me that while they did not think of one idea, they inspired it.  Really, they believed it too.

Micheal Scotts use their staff meetings for monologues.  They are the only presenter at BOD meetings (well they schedule other presenters, but they interrupt them or take over the presentation or sit in the back making that hand rolling "move it along" gesture, totally undermining the presenter).  They are the only point of integration in their organizations.  They work hard to keep their team from meeting as a group and they prefer a team that is at odds with each other.  They maintain control by making certain no other person on the management team has all the facts on any topic.  

In both of my experiences, the companies were on the path to a public offering.  The Michaels each had a talented group of folks working with them.   The talent was  recruited to the company in spite of the Michaels demeanor and reputation (I sold my butt off getting quality folks to work for them, it was the hardest recruiting I have ever been through...I can only conclude that good folks will join a bad leader because an IPO is a compelling sales tool even if the CEO is a tool).

Michaels go through life insisting that they can do everyone else's job better, faster and cheaper than the incumbent can.  So, why would Michael need anyone else's input to do their job?  They are oblivious to the fact that this attitude is fodder for humor from the receptionist to the board room.

The Chairman of the Compensation Committee of the Board at one company called me one day and asked if "Michael" had gotten over his optical problem.
"I am sorry, I don't know what you are referring to." I said.
"Nancy," he continued, "I am asking if  he has stopped starting every sentence with I?"
Oh.  So the board of directors were not oblivious.
No, oblivion is reserved for this CEO.

With Michelle, one of the Board of Directors took me to lunch to "prepare" me.  He explained that he would call me from time-to-time, but he expected he would never see me again.  "She would jump off the roof before she would share the spotlight," he explained.  I saw this first hand as she fumed every time the BOD asked to hear directly from her talented Chief Operating Officer.


One evening over cocktails I introduced a Michael Scott and a few other colleagues to my husband.  Now, my husband, Kem is a smart, quiet, theatrical composer.  He is not the most macho guy in the ballet class, but, he is the big old hairy Alpha Male when it comes to  music and music history.  It is his life's work.  One of my colleagues, wishing to include Kem in the conversation, mentioned that they had attended a concert of Handel the previous weekend.  They asked Kem about Handel's influence on modern music.   Kem understood the question was just a politeness and gave a quick answer about the connection between Baroque music and the music of the 1960's.  That is  when Michael Scott "corrected" Kembo about George Fredric Handel's influence.  Michael insisted that George Fredric Handel was a 20th Century composer.  "I know this for a fact!" he lectured my husband, "You should look it up."  I cringed.  My colleagues rolled their eyes.  And  Kem, who can listen to any piece of music, in any genre from western civilization and identify when it was composed down to a 12 month window, just nodded.  He learned long ago not to argue with boors.  (BTW, Handel lived from 1685 -1759)

So long as there are lucky bastards the Michael Scott archetype will be around.  Congratulating themselves on their accomplishments, oblivious to the  eye rolling and BOD calls to their staff.
I will not work for another Michael.  I am too old, too impatient and lack my husbands class to ever collude with the Michael Scott particular brand of incompetence.

Let's move on to my next archetype.  The Sheldon Cooper.  Bazinga!

1 comment:

  1. These CEO archetypes have analogs in the legal
    world. I usually put the other side's lawyers in one of three categories: 1) Dumb & clueless
    2) mediocre and aware of it and 3) smart.
    It was easy to negotiate successfully with the dumb and clueless because they were....well, dumb and clueless. It was also easy to negotiate with smart lawyers because they fully understood what each side needed to accomplish and were eager to get on with it. But the mediocre lawyers who knew they were mediocre? OY! They live in terror that you are trying to pull the wool over their eyes. Their first reaction to a proposal isn't "Let's walk this through and see how it would work". No---their first reaction is always "What's this guy trying to pull?" They have an abiding belief that you are trying to screw them and that they'll never be able to figure out how. So, their default position is always "No!" Deeply suspicious, they can't even take "Yes" for an answer. Negotiating with them is a nightmare and takes the patience of Job. About the only way I ever found to handle people like this was to convince them the right answer was their idea. But even that wouldn't always work since they secretly believe that if it was their idea it must be a bad one.

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