Brandt On Leadership -- Way Too Wired

A new study says 73% of senior executives qualify as e-BOOBs. Do you?

You may be sicker than you think with a new and serious mental health syndrome afflicting executives across the country. To self-diagnose, ask yourself this question: Am I committed enough to career and company that, for the right business call, I would interrupt, well, my business in a bathroom stall to answer it? I ask because last week, at Reagan National Airport, I overheard a fellow traveler do just that. What's more, after merrily chatting away, he said, "Hold on a minute," flushed, and then continued his conversation as if the sound of rushing water were nothing more than an especially insistent Call Waiting tone. At first I thought that maybe it was me who was out of step with the times; indeed, I see so many cell phones and PDAs and Blackberrys in use in so many public bathrooms -- and during meetings, throughout conferences, on golf courses, in movies, at church services(!) -- that it now seems odd to be the only one in a room not connected via voice or e-mail to tasks and people elsewhere. Tasks and people far more important, presumably, than the tasks and people actually in front of us, or else we'd focus on the conversation (or the toilet paper) at hand. Frankly, I was worried. I have enough trouble reading my e-mail, talking on a cell phone and taking notes while I drive 80 miles-per-hour to the airport. Could I now learn how to thumb-type with one hand while balancing a cellphone while standing at -- well, you get the idea. Fortunately, though, I came across a study just completed by a team of researchers at the renowned Wisconsin Institute of Clinical Kinesiology, Education & Development (WICKED). In a study of 1,304 senior executives, some 73% were identified as victims of Electronic Boss Online Omnipotence Belief (e-BOOB) Syndrome. Symptoms of being an e-BOOB include:

  • Inability to reason clearly: For example, as new technologies allow the e-BOOB to be connected all the time, the e-BOOB mistakenly assumes that he should be available all the time;
  • Delusions of grandeur: The e-BOOB becomes convinced that he is so vital to the well-being of the company, that he must be consulted in real-time on every decision;
  • Irrational beliefs: The e-BOOB tells himself that employees actually enjoy near-constant interruptions and meddling; and
  • Sociopathic behavior toward family, friends and strangers: The e-BOOB waves off all requests for affection, help or even silence in lieu of "just one more call."
According these WICKED researchers, e-BOOBs can be treated -- but only through a painful, 12-step withdrawal known as "Unplugging." In this process, the executive is forced to turn off all electronic devices for extended periods of time, during which he must converse with real individuals (including his spouse), read books and even relax. Eventually the "unplugged" executive realizes his own insignificance in the cosmos and may even begin to enjoy this low-stress, low-adrenaline state. Sadly, though, the WICKED study also reports an e-BOOB relapse rate of nearly 98% after unplugging -- a recidivism rate significantly higher than those for smoking, drugs or even the Atkins Diet. "For a quick fix," the authors conclude, "nothing beats the instant rush of self-importance that comes from a call or e-mail confirming that you are, in fact, a Master of the Universe." Even -- or especially -- if you're in the middle of some important paperwork. John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute, a research and consulting firm based in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
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