Friday, June 09, 2006

Know your place

I recently stumbled upon a friend's copy of Jack Welch's recent management book: Winning.

Being familiar with Kevin Carson's analysis of the motivational propaganda put out by corporate management, I was wondering if this book espoused the same rankist ideology.

Looking at the Table of Contents, one chapter subtitle caught my eye: "That damn boss". So, what does the great Jack Welch have to say about disliking your boss?

I was pleasantly surprized that he quickly got to business by recognizing that "The world has jerks. Some of them get to be bosses."

However, for the most part, he goes on to advise the reader to just deal with it and hope for protection within the system. He phrases this in terms of "don't be a victim"--which on one hand is sensible and self-empowering: you don't give up on your life or your career just because you have a bad boss. On the other hand, among the "victim" behaviors he includes "bitching and moaning to your coworkers." I don't see anything wrong with expressing your opinions and concerns with people who might have some insights into the situation or might be able to help you overcome this crappy situation. Yes, it is painting yourself as a victim, but you may have actually be in an unjust situation. The solution to victimization is to find effective remedies for the injustice. By saying that we shouldn't even discuss any victimization we experience, Welch seems to suggest that there's nothing to be done about it, and we should just "deal with it."

He goes on to suggest that quiting is not a real option: He describes the outcome as being "out on the market, with no recommendations...". You might need to quit as a last resort, but you have to realize that your current boss not only controls your day-to-day worklife, he controls your future prospects as well. So much for free markets.

Next, he examines reasons why your boss might treat you like dung. One possible explanation is that you are a "boss hater", and your boss is just reflecting your own attitude on you (amplified tenfold, of course). You might be able to get away with this attitude if you are really talented, but most poor schmucks can't pull it off.

So basically, unless you are really sure of yourself, you should just give everything you've got to your boss and hope that he's a reasonable person and will reward you. If he isn't, you can really only hope that the corporate system will solve your problems: the higher-ups will eventually learn that you are a good worker and the boss is a bad boss, and will put you out of your misery by transferring you or firing him. You can cross your fingers and hope for this emancipation from above, but of course there is rarely a formal remedy built into the system, and talking to the boss' boss is generally counterproductive.

He finishes the meat of this chapter by saying that you need to decide whether to endure the bad boss or quit. Then you need to "come to grips with the fact that you are staying with a bad boss by choice. That means you've forfeited your right to complain." Of course, you owe your boss your unswerving loyalty. Know your place, slave.

I don't doubt that Welch is dispensing sincere advice, unlike the cynical crap put forward in Fish! and Who Moved My Cheese?, but the takehome message is still the same: you are not a free person. The (economic) world is not structured around the exchange of goods and services among equals; instead, it is a huge hierarchy and the only way you can move up (or get out from under the others) is to play the game and win the good graces of those who are already at the top.

1 comment:

Kevin Carson said...

Wow. I figured Welch was an obnoxious bastard on the job, but I didn't realize he was also an obnoxious bastard as a hobby. So what he's basically saying is "you don't really have a choice to quit, but if you keep your job because you have to, you owe your boss respect and obedience because you chose to work for him." He's the kind of guy who'd benefit from having the living shit beaten out of him at least once in his life, and spending a couple of months in traction recuperating, just to remind him that his flesh and blood are still subject to reprisal if he grinds the wrong face into the dirt--despite all his money.