Rahm Emanuel and the 'Tough SOB' Pathology

Think of the worst boss for whom you have ever worked.  Was he (or she) irrational, erratic, destructive to organizational goals, and perhaps corrupt?  Was this boss two-faced, showing his best behavior to superiors and treating subordinates with contempt, demonstrating dishonesty and  temper tantrums toward lower-ranking personnel and threatening violence?  Did this boss ever describe himself specifically as a "tough SOB," or at least as something similar?  Does this pattern of behavior fall within the description of a "personality disorder"?

Meet Rahm Emanuel. 

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was on his best behavior on Meet the Press with David Gregory on 9 October 2011.  During the interview, Emanuel showed due concern for the economy and the financial crisis, and specifically for Chicago and its citizens.  Not shown on Meet the Press were Emanuel's multiple contributions to the financial crisis, his incompetent and corrupt operational policies, his threatening behavior toward subordinates, and his celebration of his reputation as a "tough SOB."  Emanuel received great credit for his political savvy in guiding the Democratic congressional wins during the 2008 elections, but he was smart enough to bail early before the 2010 elections, when everything was rapidly unraveling for Democrats. 

In fact, Emanuel left the White House early during both the Clinton administration and the Obama administration.  In my experience with personalities similar to Emanuel, their qualifications are good, they are typically very competent within narrow fields, and they use intimidation to achieve goals outside their core competencies.  At some point, the cost of dealing with such personalities becomes too great, and they may be fired, transferred, or even promoted in order to be gotten rid of.  That is almost certainly what happened when Clinton sent Emanuel to the Freddie Mac board of directors.

Despite his political successes, Emanuel has been a complete bust as a leader in an operational environment.  Emanuel was a principal in the failed Hillarycare effort early in the Clinton administration.  On the board of directors at Freddie Mac, Emanuel should have maintained, as a priority, the integrity of the mortgage lending process.  But the Democratic campaign contributions scandal and the $10-billion accounting fraud at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae occurred on Emanuel's watch.  And of course, Freddy Mac was a major factor in the housing bubble collapse.  These criminal incidents were never investigated, as Obama sealed the board's records.  The housing bust was solely the creation of Democrats and led directly to the 2008 worldwide financial meltdown, for which Democrats are happy to blame George Bush. 

As White House chief of staff under Obama, Emanuel was directly involved in and responsible for the unpopular and dubious Obamacare; the latter stages of the financial crisis, which was supposed to be solved by the injection of trillions of dollars of "stimulus"; the global warming fraud; the energy cap-and-trade failure; the theft of Government Motors for Obama's union thug supporters; the green industry subsidies for companies like Solyndra, which is now failing while destroying jobs at great cost to taxpayers; and other ongoing troubled areas.  Emanuel appears to have illegally interfered in federal elections in the Colorado (Romanoff) and Pennsylvania (Sestak) senate races in 2010.

Few high-ranking persons similar to Emanuel survive in office for as long as Emanuel has.  Similar abusive persons of high rank have come to grief.  The late Senator Ted Stevens (the Bridge to Nowhere, corruption charges) had a "fierce temper" and publicly referred to himself as a "mean, miserable son-of-a-bitch."  Governor Rod Blagojevich (criminal conviction) is foul-mouthed and has been medically alleged to  have a personality disorder (narcissism).  Captain Holly Graf, USN (highest-ranking female ship captain, subsequently relieved from duty) was foul-mouthed as well and threw objects, including ceramic coffee cups and heavy binders containing paperwork files, at the heads of subordinates.  Each of these characters displayed very similar words and actions, typically including corruption, inefficiency, high personnel turnover, and waste of much effort and resources, plus self-identification and/or a reputation as a "tough SOB" or some similar descriptive wording.

Board and Fritzon have described personality disorders among high-ranking personnel in the workplace and have identified such personnel as "successful psychopaths," as opposed to "unsuccessful psychopaths," who may be institutionalized or in prison (Blagojevich was successful before he became unsuccessful).  It is my experience and belief that there are thousands of successful psychopaths in middle management.  Early in my career, I had the extreme good fortune to work for four successful psychopaths, two of whom became unsuccessful while I knew them.  Being a successful psychopath is hazardous to your career and is often hazardous to the health and careers of anyone who works for the psychopath.  Captain Queeg in the famous WWII novel, The Caine Mutiny, was a Naval Academy graduate and a petty, destructive, cowardly successful psychopath -- until he became unsuccessful, was relieved of duty, and was assigned to a minor naval logistics post far from the water. 

Human Resources tells us that somewhere near half of all workers will have contact with an abusive boss, or "bully boss" in HR terminology, during their careers.  Half of all workers is somewhere near 65 million people.  The half of all workers that experience an abusive boss are subject to abnormal rates of stress-induced illnesses, personnel turnover, waste, inefficiency, and corruption at a cost in the billions of dollars.  But that leaves the other half of all workers oblivious to the presence of the pathology within the ranks.  These "lucky" people have no experience or strong identification with the turmoil that abusive bosses create.  Abusive bosses are a popular topic in the news and in business publications, but such reports are invariably anecdotal, not analytical.  Upper management is strictly disinclined to hear criticism of its middle managers.  Consequently, there is no systematic effort to identify and correct the abusive boss problem -- unlike, for example, the substance abuse problem.  Think Exxon-Valdez -- i.e., the Exxon Valdez incident set off a furious legal battle over safety and employees' rights in regards to substance abuse, and rules were tightened. 

I have identified the "SOB Syndrome" as a more complete description of the abusive boss personality, with the added advantage of verbal and action-based markers that accurately tag the SOB Syndrome, just as substance abusers are tagged by chemical markers.  No one appears to self-identify as a "tough SOB" in polite and casual conversation.  The use of the "tough SOB" terminology and/or violence is fundamental to the SOB's personality disorder, and it is furthermore self-derogatory, self-contradictory, and inaccurate; "tough SOBs" never get tough, productive operational results.

When upper management realizes that the abusive boss has a problem, perhaps a solution to the problem can follow.

James G. Long has been an army captain, a professional engineer, an author, and a blogger, with a lifelong interest in organizational management problems.  http://mandynamerica.com/blog

If you experience technical problems, please write to helpdesk@americanthinker.com