Does Woodward’s Book Sound Like Where You Work?

In the PR agency business, we get inside hundreds of workplaces. Many are exemplary, powered by values and a commitment to a principled culture.

But we have encountered others that are cesspools of dysfunction, crippled by giant ego and successful despite of what goes on in the corner office. How do they survive? Often because of well-intentioned, but otherwise miserable managers who learn how to navigate around the boss in the best interest of the company and its customers. In short, it’s a lot like what Bob Woodward describes in his latest inside-the-White House book, “Fear.”

It’s impossible to forget the words of one big ego, small business owner who, while talking about challenges, confessed to members of our team “I’m motivated by fear. And I use fear to motivate others.”

Sound like a great place to work?

Unfortunately, it’s something you could hear in many businesses, along with other themes in the book. Children and in-laws of the CEO who are on the payroll and given authority despite no subject matter expertise? Family business experts have told us that’s common. Sometimes, they get a paycheck every other week and don’t even show up to the office, leading to resentment up and down the company.

A top executive who is the least experienced individual in the room, every day? Look up The Peter Principle. Or just think about the time when you heard “We’re bringing in someone from the outside to shake things up.” It reminds me of the time that, in a Detroit newsroom, we had to band together to convince a new manager not to break into programming to report flooding on Hines Drive because it literally happens every time there’s a hard rain.

Middle managers consumed with managing up to save their salaries, regardless of the cost to the organization? There are more of those out there than most will admit.

The difference, of course, are the potential consequences. In your workplace, it’s the future of a business, individual careers, health – all significant factors, but pale in comparison to nuclear war, recession or loss of life in a natural disaster or terrorist act.

As we always say, values matter. As Don Tanner always reminds, the tone is set at the top. If you’re one of the million plus who immediately bought Woodward’s book, don’t be afraid to turn the spotlight on your work environment, if you have any amount of influence over how it runs.