The corporate dictators

Nick Cohen writes: With Britain hobbling in to 2014 like a battered beggar, we should accept that corporations can be as demented and dictatorial as any millenarian movement. People resist the comparison because businesses seem such modest enterprises. The godly persecuted heretics and apostates and the communists punished all dissent because they believed the kingdom of God or workers’ paradise could be theirs if believers followed the one true course.

Businesses don’t want Utopia. They just want to make money. Dennis Tourish, Britain’s best academic authority on how hierarchies enforce obedience, has no problem with the comparison, however. His latest book, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership, puts the Militant Tendency alongside Enron, the mass “revolutionary suicide” by Jim Jones’s followers at Jonestown with the mass liquidation of Britain’s wealth by the banks. The ends of an L Ron Hubbard or Fred Goodwin may be incompatible, he says, but the means are same.

In any case, the language of business has become ever more cultish. In the theory of “transformational leadership”, which dominates the business schools, the CEO is a miracle worker. In Transformational Leadership, by Bernard Bass and Ronald Riggio, he is described, not by some gullible Forbes hack, but by two supposedly intelligent American academics. The transformational leader “inspires” his follower to “achieve extraordinary outcomes”, they say. He “empowers them” to “exceed expected performance” and show ever greater “commitment to the organisation”.

I don’t see why anyone should find the comparison with fanatics so hard to accept and not only because the idea that CEOs can manufacture new and better subordinates matches Trotsky’s belief that the revolution would create a “new man who raises himself to a new plane”.

The nearest you are likely to come to experiencing life in a dictatorship is at work. Unless you are fortunate, you will discover that the management is the source of all ideas and all power. Executives will have privileges that bear no more relation to real achievement than the fat and ugly cult leader’s expectation of sex. In 2012, the median pay for CEOs in the USA was $14.4m, the average salary for employees $45,230. In Britain, the High Pay Commission found that the average annual bonus for FTSE 300 directors had increased by 187% in 10 years even though the average year-end share price had gone down by 71%.

Above all, whether you are in the public or the private sector, John Lewis or Barclays Bank, you will learn that if you challenge authority you will lose the chance of promotion and if you challenge it in public, you will lose your job. To prosper in the workplace, as in the dictatorship, you must tell leaders what they want to hear. [Continue reading…]

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