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comment by b_b
b_b  ·  13 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Pubski: July 27, 2022

I have a meeting with an “executive training coach” tomorrow, whatever the fuck that is. It’s not for me. It’s for my company’s COO, who’s apparently trying to better her leadership skills. She asked for candid interviews with a few of her underlings so that this coach can give her feedback, apparently under the auspices of confidentiality and immunity.

The thing is she’s a complete and total sociopath. Long before I started working for her she told me, and I am quoting verbatim, "I have no empathy." This is a woman who will do shit like send you negative Slack messages while you're in the middle of a presentation. Or wave her hand in your face and say (yell, really), "MY TURN. I'M TALKING. STOP." A former colleague, who she considers a good friend though the feeling is far from mutual, says that "She will never do or say anything that doesn't directly benefit her."

All this is to say that I'm torn between lying and telling the truth. Lying is the easy thing to do. It's also the cowardly and non-productive thing to do. Telling the truth is the brave and potentially productive thing to do. But. Lying brings me no potential pain, and telling the truth puts me in a really sensitive position should this "coach" relay to her what I had to say (there are like 4 to 6 of us doing this...it won't take 2 minutes of figuring to guess who said what, all other things equal).

My gut from the start has been saying "LIE, LIE and LIE SOME MORE." But I've shifted into a mode of the extreme opposite. Just tell the unvarnished truth and let the chips fall where they may. Honesty is what she asked for. Not sure I can be held responsible for any fallout. I already talked to my direct boss (the company's CSO), and he's planning to lie like his job depends on it. I think I'll gamble and hope it doesn't come up snake eyes.

Foveaux  ·  6 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I'd lie. If it doesn't impact me at all, I'd lie.

I have a similar kind of boss. She told me day one that she struggles with "maternal feelings". At the time I took it to mean she wouldn't coddle me, and I felt that would be fine as I don't want to be coddled.

But in the past year I've learned she will 100% go to bat for herself, and will ignore anything and everything that doesn't impact her. She'll have these massive projects for someone of her station to be handling, and delegate everything she can to me, and reap the rewards of my hard work. She'll book meetings, then not turn up. She'll book meetings with big, important people, not tell me, then chastise me for not being there and "making her look like an idiot". Everything is about her image, and her brand within the organization. Thankfully her image is kind of ruined as people above and below are now wondering why on earth she got the role in the first place.

She asked me to be an observer for her Belbin role test thingy, and I lied entirely, to just say what she expected to hear.

Thankfully, I've learned an awful lot from her. It's just been by watching her behave and learning how not to do something. My organization has an incredible amount of lateral movement, so I can still climb the ladder, but wow it's been a learning experience dealing with someone like that.

kleinbl00  ·  5 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I've read enough books about enough different things to start having original ideas.

One of the things made clear in Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test, Ariely's The Honest Truth about Dishonesty and Yuval Harari's Sapiens is that sociopaths do really goddamn well at capitalism. The competitive nature of the economic system combined with the penalties assessed by loyalty and ethics mean that those with none of the prerequisites of humanity are better at being inhuman.

And one of the things made clear by a dozen and a half books on economics is that capitalism does better for the general sweep of humanity than any other economic system, but that left to its own devices it fosters brutal inequality. The Chicago School has argued for 70 years that "brutal inequality" is not the problem of the economic system, because the economic system is not society. That's something that sets Chicago School economics apart from any other theory that came before - the idea that the participants in an economic system owed nothing to the system.

The result has been a system in which psychopaths become bosses. Full stop.

The Peter Principle was half right - people rise to the level of something. I don't think it's incompetence, though. I think it's viciousness. You rise to the level where you're meaner and more cunning than the people below you, but not as mean and cunning as the people above you. Which is not to say that sociopathic managers can't choose to be humanitarian, and many do. But we all have an ethical line we won't cross on principle. The more sociopathic you are, the better you are at pretending your line is closer to humanity.

Add in a little Jonathan Haidt, and conservatives have an advantage: they can dissociate anyone not from their tribe from humanitarian considerations. A liberal member of the Nazi party is going to have problems with Krystallnacht because they can empathize with the Jews. A conservative member of the Nazi party knows down to their very bones that they will never be Jewish and that Jews will never be humans. That's Union Carbide, Nestle, BP, any multinational you care to name.

Your boss has risen to the level where she can't support her schemes, so you're stuck with her evil. I'm sorry. That's the sort of shit that makes me very happy to not have a boss.

Foveaux  ·  5 days ago  ·  link  ·  

A depressing read! I agree though, she certainly fits the bill.

She hosted a dinner at her place last year, when she came on board and wanted to help her team be cohesive (She manages us 6, each of us 6 manages a team of 10-12). All 6 of us arrived, bringing a potluck dinner etc. It went fine, we talked, laughed and had some drinks. Her husband is nice, but very reserved.

It wasn't until afterwards that I put words to how I felt. I messaged my colleague that something felt off about the house. Colleague responded immediately "It felt manufactured. She had nothing that was 'her'. It was like a real estate agent had come in and prepped the house to be seen as modern and inviting, but it had no fucking warmth". She was right. I'm yet to see a lick of personality from my boss, it's always whatever she thinks people want to see, or need to see.

Apparently she plays in a band, but the instrument changes from conversation to conversation. She enjoys clay bird shooting, but has brought it up once in conversation and never again in the 18 months I've known her. Sure people can enjoy hobbies and not talk about them, but the number of interests mentioned in passing is staggering.

It's.. Wild, man. Truly wild.

Plus! As you've articulated, this is commonplace in those roles. My next step is into that exact role, and I am nowhere near vicious enough. I got promoted because people know I care about them and they trust me but I do genuinely worry I'll have to sacrifice some of 'me' to make it at the next level. I will try, but I don't have high hopes.

If I could 'create' for a living, I would.

b_b  ·  5 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    That's the sort of shit that makes me very happy to not have a boss.

I'm actively working on that. The main reason I took the job I'm in is because I knew enough about science to do what I wanted to do, but I knew fuckall about how to run a drug company successfully. It's entirely a quid pro quo from my perspective. And thankfully I have learned a lot and I'm now on the verge of making my own business. Raising a little cash, which is a little tough in this environment, but I don't need much to start out. I'll be boss-free by the spring if all goes well.

kleinbl00  ·  5 days ago  ·  link  ·  

How did it go, by the way?

b_b  ·  5 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I just defaulted to what I usually default to, which is the truth delivered in a way that has as little sting as I can. I led with all the good things I could think of, which to be fair, this woman has a lot of assets. Very bright, very competent decision maker, very knowledgeable about disparate topics. But then I just spoke my mind, while also offering specific examples of why I had the perspective I did. I did not, however, say that she once told me she doesn't have any empathy. I thought that was a bridge too far and would only look like I had an axe to grind. My sense talking to the coach was that the point of the exercise is truly to engage with one's strengths and weaknesses, so I wanted to live up to that. What I didn't do was say, "She's a heatless bitch who would shove her own daughter in front of a bus if there was a reward to be reaped." But what I did say was, "Sometimes she appears to lose sight of the fact people need to feel heard and respected before having their ideas dismissed. And her failure to sometimes do that has probably cost us at least two and maybe three good employees." Too early to tell if there will be any fallout, but the coach was highly insistent that nothing identifiable will get back to her. We'll see.

kleinbl00  ·  13 days ago  ·  link  ·  

The safe and reasonable thing to do is couch your answers in the form of "I have felt that our interpersonal communication is best when X." "My interactions with her go better when Y." "I am motivated when Z."

It may not be a trap. It smells like a trap. I once had to go take a drug test in order to do a site visit at the Experience Music Project, if you believe that. Then we didn't end up doing the site visit. Now - was that my fundie promise-keepers all-the-Left-Behind-books-on-her-shelf-at-work boss trying to figure out a neat way to unhire an atheist? Or just one of those things? I also spent two weeks leading an "efficiency consultant" through all the things I did on my job only to get fired on week 3. Now - was that them trying to figure out how to help me out more only to discover they couldn't retain my position? Or were they a bunch of shitheads taking notes so that the cheap person they hired to replace me wouldn't eat utter shit? We'll never know, I just know I had to console the consultant because she burst out crying as I explained to her the fact that I knew how to do my job because I'd done it for years and that the only way you learn how to do it is by doing it. Either way, they laid me off and lost $25m worth of business within six weeks so fuck 'em.

for I am a scorpion. It is my nature.

Trap or no trap, the thing to recognize is that when someone tells you this person will never do or say anything that doesn't directly benefit her, believe it. Your every answer needs to be in the form of "how does this help COO" "how do I phrase this so it does not hurt COO" "what can I say that will never come back and make me a target of COO."

Palace intrigue is no time to grow a conscience. If you wish to remain in the palace, you avoid the intrigue. If you didn't hatch it, the only role open to you is "collateral damage."

b_b  ·  13 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Sage advice. Much appreciated.

My growing a conscience angle may have more to do with a wish to get fired in a way that allows me to collect unemployment, so I’m not the only self-serving bastard here. Whole ‘nuther topic, but I’m working on a new business, and my wife is utterly opposed to me living off savings for half a year or so. Which I understand, but it requires me to more or less lie to my current company. I call it a side hobby since I’m not getting paid. They would call it a second job.

But you’re 100% right. Diplomacy is a strong suit of mine, so I’ll figure a way to deploy it gracefully.

goobster  ·  12 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Here's another angle to consider: Lying does her a disservice. Maybe she is trying to improve. The coach help that happen without your candid feedback.

I've been through these types of executive coaching things before, and the coach won't share each interview with her; the coach will share aggregate findings across all interviewees. They will call out specific phrases, but in relation to a specific topic.

So the Coach will say things like, "Your team has found you to be quick to decide on a course of action, even when other ideas haven't been fully fleshed out. They say, 'she's a quick decider, but does so without all the facts'."

The first part of the sentence is an aggregation of the feedback, and the second part reinforces the coach's point with a direct (or slightly edited) quote.

Be straight with the Coach. Tell the truth. They will decide what to do with the responses they get, and how much weight to put on each individual's responses. Who knows ... they may choose not to use your feedback at all, if it is too far divorced from the other responses.

Lying always comes back to bite you eventually. In this case, you could lie and wind up with an emboldened boss who thinks she and her techniques are perfect, or tell the truth and wind up with a boss who actually improves and becomes easier to work with.

kleinbl00  ·  12 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Given a choice between "doing the sociopathic boss a disservice" or "putting your neck on the line in case the sociopath has suddenly become altruistic" I'll do the disservice every time.

If she is trying to improve, "I can't get a good read on your underlings because no one trusts you" is actionable enough.

goobster  ·  8 days ago  ·  link  ·  

... and then lose your healthcare because you have to find another job.

Personally, at this point in my life, I'm more inclined to take a job if it lets me keep my current Kaiser HMO. Don't really care what the job is, anymore. I just want the good quality healthcare.