As the boss, I get to tell everybody at my company exactly what to do. And they get to tell me exactly where I can go.
The truth is that nobody here at Funny Times really listens to what I tell them. I mean, they act like they’re listening – they’re all great actors. They stare at me and nod agreeably. They take notes on their legal pads. They send follow-up memos and confirmations and clarifications. Then they do exactly what they want to do.
Look, I’m not complaining. I’m very happy that they do what they do, because somehow the work gets completed, we make our deadlines, and the customers keep laughing at our products. Bills get paid, phones get answered, and initially crazed building inspectors leave our office smiling, full of homemade brownies. We stay in business, and I even get a paycheck for all my hard work bossing people around and having them do what they were going to do anyway.
I don’t think that I am that atypical of a boss. The dirty little secret of business is that, for the most part, everything would move along about the same in most companies if all the bosses were to suddenly disappear. If there were some sort of Rapture of the Bosses and the 400,000 most nagging, bullying, yelling, hard-ass, bossy bosses were to vanish into the sky, or to some bossy off-shore, tax-free paradise filled with golf courses, trophy wives, Swiss bank accounts, and chauffeur-driven limos, all the employees left behind wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. They’d just keep doing their jobs and, in all likelihood, do them even better than before, without the scary guys on the top floor perpetually threatening to disrupt their lives and livelihoods. Overall, the economy would have the bosses’ one percent of the pie to redistribute and reuse in any way it saw fit. And since their one percent is equal to over 40 percent of all there is, everyone else would get a raise. Workers could go out and spend that money on new shoes and cars and Star Wars Death Star ice cube trays and all the other things that people spend money on if they have any, and this in turn would create even more income and jobs.
No, the boss is not nearly as indispensable as he thinks he is. Fortunately, in most companies, the employees recognize this. The intermediaries – the bosses’ managers and secretaries and assistants – do their best to keep the boss from knowing what is really going on, because if he knew, he’d probably just do something that would gum up the works. He’d try to institute another of his brilliant four-in-the-morning-and-couldn’t-sleep ideas of how to totally re-invent the company and the whole enterprise would go down the tubes in a matter of months. So the employees just keep telling him what he wants to hear, keep acting like they’ve been following his brilliant orders, keep giving him glowing reports. And as often as possible, they arrange trips for the boss to go out of town to conferences and meetings with other bosses, whose assistants are also doing their best to keep the boss placated and out of town so that the rest of the company can get their work done.
The assistants have developed a very fine system to keep the bosses occupied and out of trouble. They have them all serve on a series of interlocking boards of directors. These boards meet regularly and listen to long-winded presentations about vitally important matters and then vote to do whatever it is the managers advise them to do. In exchange for their monthly travel and few hours of staying awake at these meetings, the bosses get rewarded with extra gobs of money, and stock options, and goodie bags, but best of all, they are kept occupied and out of the hair of the people who do the real work.
Personally, I am not at this level of boss-dom. When the top 400,000 paid bosses in the world are suddenly raptured away, I will still be slogging into my office and complaining that nobody left any coffee in the pot for me. And one of my employees will say, “Don’t worry, we’ll make a fresh pot just for you.” Then an hour or so later, I’ll remember that I still didn’t get any coffee and I’ll go and see that the pot is empty again. And I’ll think, “Oh hell, I’ve been drinking too much coffee lately, anyway. I’m glad they forgot to tell me it was ready.” Because my employees always seem to know what I want before I do.