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BW Businessworld

Don’t Lose The Plot

Through a series of anecdotes, Witzel raises a total of 50 warning flags of symptoms leading to managers going daft, losing the plot and destroying value, writes Subin Subiah

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I recently watched Jurassic world, and read Managing for Success: Spotting Danger Signals — And Fixing Problems Before They Happen. Both are racy, thrilling yarns about the destructive effects of arrogance, ignorance, lust (for power) and unadulterated greed. The movie is about a corrupt and avaricious system, which creates a designer dinosaur that is bigger, more ferocious and hungrier than anything that existed before it. And for what? Out of fear that if the punters were not gratified, then the company register would stop ringing. Needless to say, the best laid plans go for a six with consumers getting consumed until order is restored with the new monster being taken out by an old conventional monster.

In his book, Morgen Witzel pretty much goes for the same theme. Through a series of very interesting anecdotes, he raises a total of 50 warning flags of symptoms leading to managers going daft, losing the plot and destroying value. From Henry Ford to Lehman Brothers, he explores how corruption, power, arrogance, greed and lust drive managers to a point of delusion so they betray not only their customers, their employees, their partners, their corporate legacy but also their own genius.

Half way through the narrative, I was becoming a bit disappointed. I felt I was perusing a CSI handbook on postmortems of the sociopaths and psychopaths who were legendary denizens of the corporate world. Witzel consumes a lot of pages in identifying a laundry list of all the character flaws and engineering defects that drove these gentlemen (no women managers made the cut) round the bend as leaders and as human beings. All very interesting but the plot seemed to be running out of steam.

Then, in the second half, Witzel rocks back. He explains the reasons why a corporate culture supports and/or tolerates a leader who is so obviously going to tank their business. My interest was re-piqued and climaxed in the chapter ‘Nobody Cares’, because I have been part of the system, and confess that I have, in a curious way, abetted it and profited from it — I can tell you that every detail in this chapter is true. Managerial foibles of irresponsibility, blame, denial, cynicism, detachment and ethical collapse are as much the fault of the entourage of nodding, favour-seeking sycophants surrounding the leader as it is that of the deviant personality of the leader himself.

Look, the book is a great read for anyone in business except if you are what the writer refers to as a FIGJAM (F*** I’m Good, Just Ask Me) kind of guy.

The reviewer is CEO, Spuul


(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 30-11-2015)