“All cruelty springs from weakness.”
“All the animals, the plants, the minerals, even other kinds of men, are being broken and reassembled every day, to preserve an elite few, who are the loudest to theorize on freedom, but the least free of all.”
“Normalizing your boss.”
I would say 95% of us who have had the opportunity to weave our way through corporate America to reach a senior level position have been forced to normalize the behavior of at least one of our bosses.
Some more than others, but in some ways you become a normalizer, or a translator or maybe sometimes you simply sweep up the mess they left behind. That’s just what you do … uhm … assuming that boss actually has some redeeming value. As you get closer and closer to the most senior positions it becomes more and more obvious that gaining responsibility doesn’t always smooth out the edges of someone, but rather more often makes that person lean harder on/into the specific aspects of themselves which they can use to meet the growing responsibilities. Yeah. Many leaders don’t “round out their skills & character” <and become a well-rounded leader>, but rather hone the pointed skills that provide value or increase their power <sacrificing some other skills & attributes along the way>.
Ah. But then you run up against the ‘bull shitter in chief.’
Maybe they got their position through some family contact. Maybe they were a psychopathic ‘kill or be killed’ employee who successfully killed off any competent competitors for the position. Maybe out of sheer organizational incompetence they rose to a position in which they are completely unqualified for.
All they have in their hip pocket is bullshit.
But they are your boss.
Whew. Defending selectively incompetent behavior is one thing. Defending ongoing bull shit is another. Why? The former can actually enhance your reputation <and improve your own skills as you provide solutions in real time> while the latter only diminishes your reputation.
Yeah. I am sure some people will debate what I just wrote, but I would suggest they will only end up quibbling over my phrasing and not the truth behind the thought.
Reputation is not a simple concept. Your reputation is made up of a variety of things which means you can fuck up in one place, but offering a strength in another situation simply builds your reputation unevenly <which can be managed if you are self-aware>. The problem with normalizing a bull shitter’s incompetent behavior is that you aren’t shoring up selective incompetence/deficiencies you are actually forced to normalize their behavior by offering an alternative truth to whatever bullshit truth they advocated on all fronts – not selective.
I imagine the majority of us have never really faced this either <a> as a full onslaught from an incompetent boss — because most organizations weed out this problem fairly efficiently or <b> for long <most bull shitters get exposed by ambitious less senior competent no-nonsense fairly quickly>.
But, yet, I tend to believe in our nightmare scenarios in our minds we worry about what we would do if faced with an ongoing incompetent bull shitter boss scenario.
Personally <and anyone who knows me will probably nod their head and go ‘yeah’> I wouldn’t be able to do it. I would actually call bullshit <and get fired or ‘eased into a different responsibility’>. But, even that said, having been in a quasi-position like this you have a tendency to take on each bullshit situation as discrete from another and avoid any real pattern of behavior until forced to actually face a pattern of behavior. That is how we deal with it … and that is also the personal risk we run as we ignore the larger situation rationalizing it in our own minds as ‘discrete scraps of irresponsible incompetent boss behavior.’
All this come to mind as I think about Donald J Trump.
Let me use his first self-proclaimed “big foreign trip” <which fostered the image of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure … or Pee Wee’s Big adventure or even Pooh’s Grand Adventure – pick your poison> back several years ago <simply because there are so many to choose from but this was possibly the first which encapsulated the challenges people around him would face> .
Beyond the fact the trip was bookended with a self-proclaimed “big foreign trip” and a self-proclaimed self-reported “home run”, in between there were a number of cringe-able moments in which people were demanded to stand up and become responsible for defending or explaining some tone-deaf remark, some historically ignorant comment or some insensitive gaffe that the president did over the entire big adventure.
Was it the bullying body language he demonstrated at the NATO summit, shoving aside the Prime Minister of Montenegro? <a small country that I am fairly sure the president has no clue where it is>
Was it his apparent unawareness of where Israel is located, an ignorance displayed when he informed an audience of Israelis that he’d “just got back from the Middle East”?
Was it his seeming indifference to the difference between “Islamist” and “Islamic” in front of an Islam audience <a mistake he blamed on exhaustion on the 2nd day of a trip … “does he have the stamina?”>
Was it his belief that after stating for months that NATO was obsolete that it was unnecessary to verbally state USA unequivocally stood with its NATO partners?
Was it his constant misstatements with regard to how NATO actually works?
Was it after a less than 30 minute visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, which <or any Holocaust museum> has a nasty habit of bringing people to tears or, at minimum, some deep reflection with regard to humanity and the sometimes startling cruelty humans can inflict upon one another … he left an absurdly out of touch positive note in the memorial’s Book of Remembrance – “It is a great honor to be here with all my friends – so amazing and will never forget!”
Was it his odd alternative universe in which he suggests he has “righted people’s views of where America stands with friends & enemies after a misguided 8 Obama years” where Saudi Arabia is a good friend <let’s avoid they have none of the freedoms America typically support> and where Germany is described as “bad” <albeit only their trade deals … uhm … and their views on immigration … uhm … and their views on globalism>.
Was it his unflinching ability to lie to the face of the world’s newest democratic leader Macron by unequivocally falsely, in a sincere voice, stating “I was for you.”
Or, finally, was it the overarching sadness <to most Americans> in watching the seeming shift to ‘pragmatic relationships policy” <ones in which money exchange defines who we like and who we do not like> in which we find ourselves watching our leaders partying with disciplined non democratic autocrats and constantly showing uneasiness and sincere lack of warmth in interactions with the world’s finest democratic leaders.
Here is what I know <about not only Trump, but normalizing a boss’s behavior>.
If I were working for Trump I would find it hard to read any news, but, particularly European newspapers, without cringing and certainly being embarrassed. But if Trump were my boss where I would be most concerned is that he would be using me to lend some legitimacy as he behaved in some less-than-legitimate behavior.
And that is where one needs to step back and worry about their reputation.
Because lending credibility for a boss who has selective competency is different than lending credibility for a … well … “bull shitter in chief” boss.
As one article put it well … “seasoned people simply lend an air of occasional competence to an otherwise shambolic White House. By appearing before the cameras, looking serious and speaking rationally, they add a veneer of normality to this administration.”
And maybe that is where this whole thing ends up.
It is not about us, the people and media, accepting Donald J Trump’s behavior or getting numbed into believing it is normal … it will be about experienced competent people deciding how much they want to normalize his behavior. This whole situation is not really about a decision on what is best for America <although they will certainly be forced into thinking about that>, but rather their own reputation.
Good competent people will be standing there knowing they can contribute to <a> doing what is right and <b> herding an incompetent boss … both of which America in a larger context benefits … and, yet, they stand there watching their own reputations slowly slip away … drip by drip … word by word.
Good competent people can normalize selective incompetence, but they will struggle to normalize a ‘bull shitter’ whose only competence is ongoing ignorance. At some point people will begin questioning your own competence as you continuously articulate some semblance of nonsensical normalcy and they will definitely start questioning … well … your integrity or character.
And then what do you do? Because, in the end, that is what you are left with – just you & your character.
Because, frankly, no matter how skilled you are a shitload of people in this world are just as experienced as you are and a lot of people are skilled and competent just like you therefore you get judged, ultimately, on what you did when faced with a situation — did you speak up?
Did you defend the wrong and indefensible? Did you do what was right?
I am not suggesting this is easy.
In fact a good bull shitter can offer such an elegant smoke screen it can offer the competent some cover so they can offer up some truth and competence in a way that … well … is true & competent.
However, in the end, the difficulty resides in the smoke itself.
Because at some point every competent person associated with a bull shitter is asked to explain the smoke … and … well … how do I explain the smoke?
You can’t. And, worse? You cannot put out the fire.
Good people, no matter how good, will choke on the smoke eventually.
And, let’s be clear, no one wants to see good people die.
It is painful to watch.
It is painful to watch good competent people being broken and reassembled every day, to preserve someone, who are the loudest to theorize on freedom, but the least free of all.”
That is the personal choice one makes when normalizing a boss … how much smoke is there and will I choke from the smoke they make?
I cannot offer a well-defined “here is how you know and what you should do” today because this is a personal choice. But, no matter who you are and where you are, watching good competent people standing in the smoke being demanded to define a smoke, not of their own making, is painful. And sad.