March 5, 2007:

Sketch: Michael.

Entered the private sector as a mid-level manager after a career in the Army. The organizational virtue he most admires is "alignment," which is to say, adherence to a rigidly top-down model of communication and decision making. "Those who succeed in this company," he says, modeling his speech rhythm after George Scott's Patton, "are those who learn to align."

His own alignment is straightforward. His boss is not merely right, he's positively wise, so much so that those who disagree are stupid, or incompetent, but above all, disloyal.

The organizational dynamic is inevitable. Without pushback, that is, correction from below, managerial mistakes are institutionalized. Indeed, in the absence of feedback from those closest to the work, management becomes increasingly self-isolated from real results and real issues, fortifying themselves behind sandbags of self-delusion. From their point of view the machine hums along like a well-oiled Humvee rolling toward Baghdad. Those in the trenches know better.

More, the organization places itself in conflict with other wings of the company. When disagreement is equated with disloyalty there's no alternative. The company is filled with enemies to be destroyed, as if the internal organizational chart were a battlefield map. In two years the company fails, or maybe it would be better to say, collapses on itself like a house eaten by termites.

Michael sits with his feet on the enemy's captured desk. He's like a general whose troops have occupied a foreign country: proud that his strategy has succeeded, secure after his enemy's demise, determined to enjoy the perks of his victory. Outside, the fallen file sullenly past his glass office walls, heads hung, like prisoners of war. After a year-long struggle the company's West Coast office is his. From here he's determined to conquer the world.

Instead the world conquers him. Those with skills flee to new companies, whose management are better able to foster their contributions. Many of them are hired by competitors. The remnants are those with no choice: unhirable. Development slows, then crawls, then stops. As sales shrink, the most-talented sales people bolt for better opportunities. The VPs of Sales and Marketing quit. The company bleeds money as fast as it bleeds people. When the Board finally intervenes, too late, there's little left besides Michael, sitting with his feet on his enemy's desk, a surprised look on his face.