The “Double Secret“ Handbook for bad Executives Returns with a Vengeance!

I know it’s been a while since I uncovered another chapter from this tome. If you’ve kept up with my weekly posts, you know that I’ve had a lot going on lately. I just happened to find this one the other day. It was hidden behind a giant whiteboard in the senior staff conference room. There were so many notes, symbols and other hieroglyphics scrawled upon the board that it looked like the wall of an ancient Egyptian tomb. There was a big red note at the top that said “DO NOT ERASE.” It was all very impressive but actually quite meaningless. I did detect something about the NCAA basketball rankings but that’s neither here nor there (and for another post). I decided to poke around behind the board because there’s usually something “behind” these deceivingly important looking scribbles. Voila!

Chapter 7 Command and Control through Confusion

There’s a famous scene in the movie Patton where George C. Scott goes off on a tirade when his staff suggests slowing down the relief effort to rescue the troops under siege at Bastogne because of foul weather. Patton’s dramatic admonition of his staff ends with something like, ”…If we’re not victorious, let no man come back alive!” His officers are stunned speechless by this remark. At this point, Patton’s aide approaches him and whispers, “You know General sometimes they don’t know when you’re acting.” Patton looks at the officer and smirks, “It’s not important for THEM to know. It’s only important for ME to know.” Brilliant! In the Society for Bad Executives’ view, whether Patton’s troops actually relieved the airborne division is irrelevant. The important point here that he reinforced his image as a larger than life character and kept his subordinates in awe. Patton knew how to portray the power of his rank and office. He knew how to act like a general. That’s how we define leadership!

As an executive, you should always think of yourself as a dynamic general. Barking orders, dressing down your staff and acting like a Field Marshall prancing about with a swagger stick are all part of your personae as a leader. You are the anointed one and that’s how leaders act. In your case – it IS as important for THEM to know that you’re a powerful commander as it is for YOU to know it.

You should be constantly reinforcing your power and authority with your staff. They need to be as in awe of you as Patton’s officers were of him. But since there is no war, no battle or desperate rescue effort going on to provide a backdrop to showcase your larger than life status, you need to create some alternative theater that will keep all eyes directed to you. Your strategy of choice – confusion!

Yes confusion! Keeping your staff confused, guessing and off balance are the best ways to solidify your perception as the supreme commander. After all, it’s not important that they know you’re intentionally confusing them. It’s only important that you know you’re intentionally confusing them. See, you’re already beginning to think like a leader! Here are some good battlefield tactics to promote confusion amongst the troops so you can lead them through the fog:

Using the Wild Goose Chase. Sending staff members and teams off on useless missions is a great way to display your command authority. These are not wastes of time and effort if they result in those folks looking to you for guidance and affirmation. Think of these exercises as training tools. As a British member of the Society for Bad Executives once put it, ”We’re off on a fox hunt but it’s not about the fox. It’s the hunt that matters!” Good show!

Keeping Things Secret. Never share information with your staff. Information is power. Make them come to you for even the smallest nugget. Dole it out sparingly and ONLY when it make you seem like the font of wisdom that you are.

Analyzing the Analyses. Anything that can be analyzed can be over-analyzed. Direct the staff to tear reports apart looking for hidden clues. Command them to look at data sideways, upside down and inside out if necessary. Stress the importance of being “analytical” (whatever that means). You’ll let them know when they’ve found what you’re looking for. Even if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you will keep them busy trying to please. When you’ve become bored with the exercise, toss out a few rewards and punishments then simply move them on to the next assignment.

Editing with Extreme Prejudice. Make certain that all letters and memos emanating from your direct reports bear your personal seal of approval as well as your personal touches. You are the supreme editor-in-chief. Only you can understand the appropriate use of words given the context of the writing. Listen, we know you’re busy but it’s important to never let a communiqué go out without making some kind of a change to it. It can be as simple as substituting a single word like “mirrors” (your choice) versus “reflects” (the author’s choice). This will keep them on their toes, as they will never know what other common words you might substitute for theirs. It may even turn into a guessing game. But guess what? You’ll always win!

Talking Techno-jargon. This is akin to keeping things secret but can be much more fun. If there is a new term or acronym coined in the company’s inner sanctum, begin to use it liberally and as if it’s already public domain. Watch them squirm as they try to figure just what in the hell you’re telling about. Will anyone dare to ask?

Committing the Forces to Impossible Missions. Whenever you receive an assignment that needs to be delegated to the staff, never convey the due date set by those above you. Always shorten the timetable. Make the staff stretch. It’s good for them. It’s good for you too if you’re viewed by your superiors as a powerful decisive figure who can lead their troops to victory.

Remember, unlike Patton or a real military leader who is ultimately responsible for the lives and safety of their command, your job is quite different. As a business executive, you are only responsible for holding others responsible. You have a great job! That does not mean that you should not view yourself as Napoleon or Montgomery. Your troops should view you that way as well. It’s not important that THEY know otherwise.

Postscript from the Corporate Cynic: I always wondered why I thought of bad executives as “General Nuisances.”

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