Brandt On Leadership -- Beware The McGillicuddy

You might make the numbers, but you have to also stroke the boss.

I had a drink with your boss McGillicuddy last night, and -- I don't quite know how to tell you, so I'll just say it -- I think you're shark bait. Corporate chum. Dead meat. Ready to be thrown overboard.

OK, so you get my point. But do you get my point: You think you're ready for a promotion, but he's starting to wonder why he hired you in the first place.

I know: Results were never better. He and this company handed you a crappy division that none of them could figure out, and you've got the numbers moving in the right direction. McGillicuddy knows that, too. It's just that . . . Well, he's McGillicuddy. Nobody climbs that high in a major corporation with no visible job skills without being, for lack of a better word, a player. He knows where the martinis were drunk, and who had too many. He knows who got hauled before HR to explain their expense accounts. He knows where the Dallas Office buried the Omega project. For all I know, he may have pictures of the CEO in spandex lederhosen and a feather boa.

He is, in short, The McGillicuddy: A corporate force of nature whose will cannot be avoided or denied.

Which is why you're in the, well, stuff. Right now, the company's biggest player can't figure out whether you're playing on his team, a rival's team, or the team from, as he so eloquently put it, "Friggin' Mars." More specifically, he's trying to puzzle out whether you're just a clueless Technodork who doesn't know how the system works, or if you're some sort of hyperefficient player yourself, out to topple McGillicuddy and his carefully constructed empire of favors and blackmail. Either way, you're being fitted for a pair of corporate concrete galoshes.

Particulars? The McGillicuddy doesn't polish his cufflinks without a list of particulars. Here's what he got to on his first Stoly:

When he came into town and invited you to breakfast, he didn't do it because he was lonely. He wanted to look you in the eyes and see if he could tell what kind of player you were. When you begged off, he got his answer.

When he asked you to submit a private, one-page, bullet-point weekly report, he specifically didn't say, "Send me a huge mass of spreadsheets and every departmental memo you can find." He also didn't really give a moment's consideration as to whether or not you thought that once a month would be more efficient. A McGillicuddy lives and dies on what he knows, right now, this week. You either give it to him, or he'll find somebody who will.

The McGillicuddy doesn't really like excuses. Whining, less. And blame? Brrr. So when you led off the corporate retreat with that PowerPoint detailing the neglect your facilities had suffered under the previous (i.e., McGillicuddy) regime, he was, well, quiet. Not a Wow-That-Was-Interesting sort of quiet, but instead a What-Corporate-Siberia-Can-I-Send-This-Idiot-To kind of quiet. Nobody disses The McGillicuddy in his own house. Except, apparently, you.

There's more, of course, but you don't even want to know where he went after the second Stoly. Or, God forbid, the third. Even so, all is not lost. The McGillicuddy is a hard man, but not without compassion. Which means he's planning to offer you another chance. One of our natural resource processing divisions with, yes, a few problems. But with your talent, he believes you'll have it turned around in no time, seven or eight years at the max.

Plus, he really, really thinks you'll like it in Greenland.

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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