of George W. Bush as the Pointy-Haired Boss from Dilbert, and it
all makes sense. The greatest difference between the two, of course,
is that one is a fictional leader who was concocted just to make
money for his creator, and the other is a cartoon character. Still,
there’s much to be learned about GWB by studying PHB.
is an evil man, though each can certainly step up to the plate when
it comes to making amoral decisions with a let-God-sort-’em-out
unconcern about the consequences.
are in situations way, way over their heads, and are absolutely
dependent on underlings to attend to those pesky technical details,
and on superiors (think Dick Cheney) to make the real decisions.
When it comes to these two, the Peter Principle seems like a rosy
assessment of leadership incompetence in bureaucracies. PHB is the
archetypal middle manager who achieved that career-capping promotion
to the job he always wanted but wasn’t really qualified for; GWB
has PHB’s talent, yet has leapfrogged all the way into the Oval
Office – which makes him the scarier of the two.
doesn’t give a damn about employees. They’re cannon fodder, or,
if you will, human resources, just as copier paper, sticky notes,
and staples are office supply resources – things to be used,
crumpled, and tossed as needed. If the bottom line can be pumped
up short term with some terminations just before Christmas, then
let the pink slips fly. And George has the same attitude toward
his own human resources, as shown with that defiant "Bring
‘em on!" challenge to Iraqi insurgents.
certainly, both try their best to talk as if they’re fully aware
of the latest goings-on in their respective fields, but can never
quite pull it off. The Boss never misses an opportunity to use business
jargon he’s just stumbled upon to impress his listeners. It’s the
same with the Prez:
also got to measure in order to begin to effect change that’s just
more – when there’s more than talk, there’s just actual –
a paradigm shift. That’s what measurement does."
clearly a budget. It’s got a lot of numbers in it."
Reuters, May 5, 2000
understand small business growth. I was one."
New York Daily News, Feb. 19, 2000
hope investors, you know-secondly, I hope investors hold investments
for periods of time-that I’ve always found the best investments
are those that you salt away based on economics."
Associated Press, Austin, Texas, Jan. 4, 2001
of these fearless leaders say funny things because neither is really
paying attention to what’s going on around him. Ineptness in these
cases is the result of much effort. One must work very hard to encase
oneself in a fog of preconceived ideas and rock-hard prejudices
to rise to positions such as the Boss and the Prez occupy. But out
of that artificial fog emanate policies and actions that hurt people.
In Dilbertland, employees are hurled out of office windows and kicked
through walls, but after a minor ink transfusion, come back for
more. Not so in Dubyaland. That macho, go-get-’em mentality that
sneers at the troubling details that make lesser men think twice
may seem like inspired, no-nonsense, can-do dedication to Pointy
and George, but in fact is nothing more than obliviousness born
latest example comes from an Italian official who has resigned as
counselor to the US-appointed provisional authority in Iraq. Marco
Calamai told reporters the US is mismanaging reconstruction, out
of touch with Iraqis, and only fueling their anger. He also revealed
that US occupiers don’t understand Iraqi society and have hopelessly
botched their pie-in-the-sky reconstruction projects. "Projects
which have been implemented are not working and the Iraqis are more
and more furious. This social unrest can only encourage terrorism."
course, it’s the Iraqi occupiers’ ham-fisted actions that really
incite terrorist acts. US troops bully and needlessly kill Iraqi
civilians, yet somehow Bush and his advisors express shock and indignation
when the Iraqis strike back the only way they can. And now this
blindness has reached such outrageous extremes that they would be
comical if they weren’t so tragic. Last week, General John Abizaid,
chief of the US Central Command, warned tribal sheiks and mayors
the US military will use "stern measures" unless the local
Iraqi leaders somehow stop attacks against coalition forces. And
the latest campaign against unappreciative Iraqis, "Operation
Iron Hammer," has US troops sealing off a 20-block area in
Baghdad and searching every single building inside it. Colonel Russ
Gold, commander of the 1st Armored Division’s 3rd Brigade, gave
his men instructions that only Pointy-Haired Boss could dream up:
"Be professional, be polite and be prepared to kill them."
I earned my keep in the corporate labyrinth, I frequently saw a
little flyer that kept popping up on bulletin boards and cubicles.
The flyer announced, "Beatings will continue until employee
morale improves." Everyone who read it knew it was a joke
about management ineptness – you know, the kind of thing that
"Dilbert" lampoons. But that’s exactly what Bush is saying:
US forces will maul the civilian population until retaliation against
them ends. That little bit of Dilbertesque insanity is now official
Pointy-Haired Boss and the Neocon President cannot grasp that they
are doing more harm than good. They truly believe that the people
they’re responsible for are helpless, lost souls who look to them
for guidance and direction. They are Gnostics in gray flannel suits,
or, on casual days, slacks and cowboy hats; they are Hobbes’ Leviathans
who have come to bring order, peace, and prosperity to a world that,
without them, would be chaotic and poor. Their hardwired self-images
give them such a profound sense of self-righteousness that it’s
impossible to tell them they are the source of chaos:
I tease people by saying, ‘A leader, you can’t say, follow me the
world is going to be worse.’ I’m an optimistic person. I’m an inherently
content person. I’ve got a great sense of where I want to lead and
I’m comfortable with why I’m running."
George W. Bush, Washington Post, March 23, 2000
C. Tuggle [send him mail]
is a project manager and software trainer in Charlotte, NC.
His first book, Confederates
in the Boardroom, explores the implications of organizational
science on political systems, and is published by Traveller Press.