Monday, December 15, 2003

PART II: Sociopathic Leadership,

In the first part I wrote about one strong indicator of sociopathic leadership in the Yankee organization: the intentionally insulting treatment of a long-time employee regarded by his peers and observers as a key component of the organization's success.

There's another clear indicator worth noting:

  • The extraordinary and public disdain for the social norms the organization is expected to follow, both internally and externally. According to the NY Times piece by Jack Curry I referred to yesterday,

The Yankees, the alone-on-an-island Yankees, did not send any of their top executives to the winter meetings. George Steinbrenner revoked General Manager Brian Cashman's ticket on Thursday and he advised Damon Oppenheimer, a vice president, to stop packing on Wednesday. Somehow, Gene Monahan and Steve Donohue, the two trainers, managed to sneak here and perhaps study the latest innovations in treating strained hamstrings.

"George doesn't want us to go there because we would give away our secrets," one club official said. "There are a lot of teams out there who don't really care about our secrets."

That is not what the increasingly obsessive Steinbrenner, the team's principal owner, thinks. According to officials from the Yankees, other teams and agents, what he thinks, feels and does is what the Yankees think, feel and do these days. More than ever, Steinbrenner, who is perturbed about three straight seasons without a World Series title, is dominating how the Yankees will take shape in what should be a hectic 2004 in the Bronx.

This is about the external norms. Teams go to the winter meetings. By refusing to have what many observers think of as the flagship franchise (highest income, highest expenditures, best record of success in its league over the last decade) participate, it sends a powerful message to all the other teams: your puny formalities don't matter to us. It's an aggressive assertion of difference, of superiority, of a lack of need to engage on any terms but one's own. Perhaps on the surface it looks somewhat narcissistic, and perhaps there are elements of that in the recipe, but more than anything else, its a snub, an intention to intimidate the rest of the league the way it intimidates staff, done as a prelude to ultimate victory, like a pitcher doing the fist pump on strike one.

Internally, if you believe the Curry story, Steinbrenner is sending the same message. All GMs go to winter meetings. Except Cashman.

As the World Series loss to the Marlins unfolded, Steinbrenner criticized Cashman for whatever went wrong on the field, according to a Yankees official.

Steinbrenner's criticism of Cashman has shifted to indifference in the off-season; Steinbrenner has made player decisions without consulting him. Cashman did not attend the winter meetings in 1999, either, and after fighting Steinbrenner for permission to go each winter, he did not fight him this year.

Like Torre, Cashman is in the final year of his contract, and speculation about being fired by Steinbrenner will surely follow both from spring training.

This approach is a variant of the Management By Terror (MBT) discussed in the previous entry, that is, keep everyone on edge so each believes they could be fired at any moment. Steinbrenner could just fire Cashman, or could just let Cashman go to the winter meetings, but a head-man who is behaving like a sociopath many times likes to toy with his minions so he can get the orgone charge from watching the other staffers cringe, the press report on it, the fans look on in amazement. The "public" part of the public spectacle in most sociopathic organizations is pretty limited beyond the staff & Board, but a high-profile sports franchise just has so many tantalizing possibilities.

One other indicator worth noting. The current GM, Brian Cashman, started in the organization at the lowest level, and was pushed up via Steinbrenner Ex Machina. The Boss isn't stupid; he's been promoting out of nothing a guy who is capable at this point. Cashman is a smart cookie by every apparent measure. But Cashman also owes everything to his mentor/tormentor, the tormentor knows it. I've never spoken to Cashman, but I strongly suspect he's basically loyal, a man of his word. I suggest that because bosses who behave like sociopaths most frequently pick on that type. It means the head-man can carry on the game farther while the underling will hang on, loyal while being tormented.

There are four strong indicators in this case (the humiliating purge of the popular contributor, the internal public displays of disrespect and the external public displays of disrespect). There are other indicators common to American organizations that feature this form of leadership beyond these.

In the next entry, I'll discuss what (limited) options you can take if you're in an organization run like this.

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