Work as emotional terrorism

Decent article here about “leaders” who spend every all-hands meeting talking about financial metrics that most of the organization doesn’t understand or cannot connect back to their work — so, about 90% of leaders — with some good quotes and approaches, but like every other article ever written about work, it utterly misses the point that consistent discussion of financials, growth, and wealth-building is the closest thing many executives have to “fun” in their lives, so no, they’re not about to stop doing it anytime soon. Shipping product, grinding, being in 17th gear and beating rivals constitute the purpose of those guys. You take their ability to talk about CAGR and Q3 beating expectations away, you basically just killed them. In their minds, they just became a 1950s housewife. And fuck if they know how to roast a ham.

That’s the problem with most orgs and most work suggestions: they ignore psychology. An executive does not care about words like “engagement.” He views engagement as what just happened to his daughter, Brooke — and honestly he only cares about that because he has to pay for the wedding (goddamn Kevin, his family is loaded. Can’t they help out?). An executive cares about money, and engagement to him (or her) is about making money, growing, beating rivals, and showing you “won.” Bezos is the grand puba of these guys in some ways; go look up his speech in Berlin in 2018 where he refers to his Amazon net worth as his “winnings.” What do you win? A game. That’s how these guys look at work.

Now, I’ve had dozens of jobs where executives call an all-hands and discuss financial metrics, and eventually most people are tuned out or playing on their phone. Ironically, that’s the same thing that happens in most diversity trainings. And what’s the commonality? It’s that people kinda sorta “get” that this is important — good financial metrics mean we can make payroll, and diversity seems like a good thing! — but they have no idea how it relates to their day-to-day work and tasks. Like, what if you don’t face revenue? OK, so how can you adjust these metrics then? Or what if you’re a middle-aged white man/woman trying to feed their family? Diversity and inclusion seem important, but what can you really do? That’s the same mindset that got us “I’m Listening” lawn signs, too.

Good point further down this article:

Emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman says, “A primary task of leadership is to direct attention. To do so, leaders must learn to focus their own attention.” Instead of routinely hitting forward on every financial report, think about where you want to direct the attention of your team.

First cool thing: I’d like to be called an “emotional intelligence expert” someday, although presently I think I’m closer to “low-level functional alcoholic who over-performs financially while under-delivering professionally.” How’s that for some self-awareness?

Second: this quote is the essence of work. Like, the essence. One of the key things about having a managerial role is that you need to direct:

  • Context
  • Information
  • Attention

Those three things are very closely intertwined. A manager needs to provide context on what’s happening, who’s who, what’s important, what really matters to this job being performed well, and all that. They need to provide information on who to ask for things, how to get things, where things reside. And, perhaps most importantly, they should direct your attention. “This stuff is important. This stuff? Less so.”

Now, sadly we do know from research and anecdotal experience that many managers are terrible at this, and they became “Shiny Object” guys, where everything is a priority, which inherently means nothing is a priority. Attention isn’t focused, they themselves focus on financials, they forward you a few reports about financials (much of which you don’t understand), and they essentially become “absentee” managers. I just described my life from 28 to 40 or so. Someone hold me.

So, if you are excited by the financials to the point of getting a tiny bit erect or some such (not a stretch for many executives), then do me a favor and when you present that info down a chain, give some context. What does this mean for payroll, bonuses, advancement? What does it mean in terms of the market and position? How can someone grow within the company knowing that the financials are TOIGHT? What are the next steps? What does it mean for day-to-day work?

A lot of people would look at those questions and say “Peons don’t need to know that stuff” or “They should keep hustling, that’s why I pay them until I automate their asses out with an Oracle product, hopefully by Q1 2024,” and maybe those are valid answers. But constantly forwarding financial spreadsheets and graphs with limited context, information, and attention-focus is basically just managerial emotional terrorism. So either loop them out entirely (not the best play) or loop them in but with some effort at explaining what it all means.


Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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