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Neurotic Leadership Programming

I wrote about Gunther Dueck, one of IBM Germany's CTO before. Since the book Direkt-Karriere is only available in German, here's my summary (you could buy the Direkt-Karriere eBook and run it through a translator, but that most likely won't be fun):

Direct Career - the easiest way to the top*

* If you are not familiar with the concepts of irony, sarcasm, cynicism or persiflage neither the book nor this review are for you. Stop reading now!
Dueck suggest to anybody who is interested in having a corporate career to make it the personal top priority and focus on achieving it. He clears the common mis-perception that one gets promoted for performance. Reality is that promotion is tied to potential and proving potential by performance is an time consuming and expensive detour on your career path. Focus on just showing potential directly. It saves a lot of work and accelerates career moves. When we look at management theory, the enterprise pyramid looks like this (page 47 in the book)
The typical management pyramid
The functions of every level are clearly mapped out:
  • Employees: They are the backbone of the enterprise. Their work generates the revenue, brings in the deals and fulfil contractual obligations. From time to time managers of all levels fall back into "employee work", be it to set an example or to sell to their peers in other organisations.
  • First Line Managers: Drive the Enterprise. Guide, motivate and drive employees.
  • Middle Management: Run the Enterprise. Ensure orderly conduct. Watch over rules, reports and regulations. Make sure everything works as designed and doesn't change. Core principle: "You get what you inspect"
  • Executive Management: Change the Enterprise. Integration of the corporate divisions, initialise and manage corporate initiatives
  • CEO: Reinvent the Enterprise. Devise strategies and instill enthusiasm into customers, share holders, employees are the rest of the universe (Steve does it well, but not this Steve)
Now Dueck agues that every level of management is related to a neurotic disorder. He suggest instead of becoming a neurotic one should just play one. This is important since every level of management requires a different type of neurotic disorder. The main difference between a neurotic in therapy and a manager: the manager's neurotic behaviour is highly successful and accepted in society. Let's have a closer look.The pyramid doesn't change its shape, but the main labels:
The real management pyramid
  • First Line Managers: Hyper aggression. Keep employees under constant stress to strive for given targets regardless how achievable they might be. Everything is urgent. Goal posts get constantly moved to push performance. Urge to constantly overachieve. (Dueck refers to The Stress Management Sourcebook for an overview of this so called Type-A person). (S)he needs to constantly push. The tool of the trade is Focus & Stress.
    You fight a two front battle: instill into your reports that goals are realistic and achievable. Argue with your managers that they are too high (careful here: don't create the impression being a "moaner"). A good approach is not to try to make sense of goals given (they come from "above" anyway). It is not your job to make sense out of them. You communicate them and drive your staff to "achieve or die". The book highlights a few ways how to suck up to higher management here, but that's for you to read for yourself. In summary: create pressure and your staff will do anything to advance your career (the easiest way to get rid of you)
  • Middle Management: Obsessive-compulsive behaviour. Everything must follow the book. Nothing stays unmeasured. Results must match many digits behind the comma. Under the pretext of "managing risk" lower levels are chocked with report requirements, controls and audits. Deeply distrusts automated systems and the work of others. The tool of the trade is Streamline & Orkg (for an explanation of "Orkg" read the book).
    You ensure a frictionless operation through processes and reviews. Checklists ensure you don't miss anything. You reject any exception and achieve order. Expenses are only approved after a triple rejections. You outlaw any risk taking (never mind what senior management states). Everything gets signed, so it is never your fault. Reduce everything to a number and decide on that number, that's easier than deciding on facts. Constantly cut costs. 10% less is always possible isn't it? Make sure you have any number or information at hand your Executive might ask you. Since you run all these reports and reviews, that's easy.
  • Executive: Hysteric. Needs to stand in the lime light, uses buzzwords more than complete sentences, likes to provoke, overstates relationships (I'm friends with the CEO of xxx after we shook hands at the dinner) and is overwhelming emotional. The tool of the trade is Fake & Cheat.
    You champion change and creative disruption - for the other divisions. You fiercely protect your flock. All change management initiatives you kick off need to be designed in a way, that you are long gone before the success or failure would be visible (your successor will replace it with his/her own program anyway). Make sure problems don't surface first in your division. Once one is spotted, drive it towards (a to be created) Vice President position, so it is out of your way. Make sure you have a few shining examples and lighthouse projects to brag about. Don't waste your time with real change.
  • CEO: Narcissist. Overbearing self esteem, craves for recognition, Illusion being entitled to anything, demands admiration, distances himself from others. The tool of the trade is Buzz & Hazard.
    The biggest temptation now is to actually become a real boss.But you could very well just put up a good show and leave running the company to your executives (buzz) or you try to pull the big one and hope you are lucky (hazard). Your credo is: "Be magic through buzz. Provoke the mega chances. Temp your fate. Hazard and try your luck." (page 172). If you play the hype right, you are gone to greener pastures before the real work starts
Of course a short blog entry can't do the whole book justice. So learn German and read it yourself or help to get it translated. If you know a publisher who would be interested to work with Germany's Eichborn publisher to get the whole book translated, let me know.
After reading the book (which made me laugh and shiver) I needed an urgent dose of Atlas Shrugged ( Wer ist John Galt? for German readers).
Happy Direct Career to everybody.

Posted by on 14 August 2011 | Comments (2) | categories: Business Omnisophie


  1. posted by Nigel Choh on Tuesday 16 August 2011 AD:
    Hi Stephan,

    Thanks for sharing... if I could get this book in English I would.

    I see some of this at play where I work today. But I wonder how it works when you have a Director, Manager, Technical Lead, Project Manager and Business Analysis sitting above you?
  2. posted by Victor on Tuesday 06 September 2011 AD:
    Nice blog.