A righteous development
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – IF YOU LIVE LONG ENOUGH, YOU SEE just about everything, I guess. Robber barons who once reengineered thousands out of their jobs become philanthropists. Austrian movie stars morph into high state officials. Miscreants go to rehab, make comebacks, write books, go on television. The polar icecaps melt. Wolfgang Puck introduces coffee in a can that heats itself with the press of a button. Some stuff you never even dare to hope for. Ken Lay getting a serious talking to. Donald Trump opting for a buzz cut. Interest rates over 5% again. Gas for under $2 a gallon.

One thing I never thought I would see, however, now seems to be transpiring in our nation's capital: a senior executive of our empire is currently being hoist by his own petard. John Bolton, President Bush's choice to be our ambassador to the United Nations, is being called to account not for financial malfeasance, sexual indiscretion, or any other wacky behavior we've come to expect from narcissistic, type-A senior executives of multinational hegemonies. No, Mr. Bolton is being called to account for being a lousy boss.

And that, friends, is unprecedented in my experience, and possibly reason for a delicate puff of hope. Is it possible that this might be the leading edge of a trend? That there will be accountability for management style in the evaluation of an executive's suitability for future office? Ha! I'm going to start looking for a squadron of pigs sailing over my head on their way from J.F.K. to LAX. And yet there may be reason for optimism.

For those of you who haven't followed this story because it's not in the business pages, here are the facts: John Bolton, a lifelong enemy of the United Nations, was nominated by our country's CEO to bring our particular worldview to that body. There was outcry from the usual cadre of partisan Democrats, bleeding-heart liberals, international softies, and other riffraff. None of it cut any slack with the Senate, which appeared ready to confirm the nomination.

Then something odd happened. Angry former associates and subordinates started raising concerns about the nominee. Many were former officials of the administration who didn't seem to be infected with dark political motives at all. They just appeared grossed out that a guy with Bolton's management tool set was about to grab the brass ring.

First came word that he yelled at people and was generally unpleasant. A senior Bush man testified that the boss had tried to punish two junior State Department guys for daring to disagree about proliferation of nuclear weapons. Word came from CIA officials that he had tried to fire the national intelligence officer for Latin America, who didn't agree with him on whether Cuba was developing weapons of mass destruction. Bolton was depicted as a bully who tortured subordinates, a martinet willing to do and say anything to get his way. Possibly a very nice guy to his bosses, but the people beneath? A mean, dangerous butthead. Or so it was said. I never met the man myself. Perhaps he likes dogs.

But how many guys have you worked for who fit that description? Did it ever hurt any of them? As for me:

There was Bob, my first boss, who would cringe before his superiors, then go downstairs and scream his face blue at the little people, often firing and rehiring a terrorized individual on the same day. There was Dan, who used his tiny, ice-cold blue eyes to make grown managers sink to the carpet, mumbling promises about better revenue numbers they knew they couldn't produce. There was Marina, perfectly affable in the morning, a drunken maniac after lunch. Good God, the Boltons I have loved and hated throughout my career!

I'm sure you have yours, even if you used to work for Mother Teresa. I hear she was a bear before her morning coffee.

How do such people continue to make it in the real world? The answer is simple: They have permission. In defending his alleged bully from bipartisan criticism, the President referred to Bolton's "blunt" style with some pride and noted that there are those who accuse him, the Chief Executive, of having the same general bluntness. We're all blunt! What's the problem?

But we all know that there is a problem. These guys who are never wrong, who yell, who punish, who manage through fear, they're not really great stewards of the corporation, are they? And now we just might be able to do something about it. If each one of us sucks it up and testifies about what we know, in the end, the bad manager will bite the dust, won't he? All right then! Victims of mean management, step forward! Tell your story! I'll be right behind you all the way!

At a safe distance, of course. My mother didn't raise any stupid children.

STANLEY BING's latest book, Sun Tzu Was a Sissy: Conquer Your Enemies, Promote Your Friends, and Wage the REAL Art of War (HarperBusiness), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at stanleybing@aol.com.