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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Women Make Great Managers–Lessons From Ancient Rome And The Mob

Filly Blinders started barking orders to her staff as soon as she got off the elevator. “Get these to accounting”, she said to one minion who had been alerted to her arrival and was waiting. “And you”, she said, nodding in the direction of lower-tier professional, “See me in my office in 15 minutes.”

The office, in a state of expectant tension and anticipation for an hour or so before Filly’s arrival, came to life at her entrée. She had been working until midnight sending emails and texts, prepping her staff for the next day’s work.  She was indefatigable, it seemed, staying at the office late, working at home for another five hours, and then bounding in the office the following morning as fresh as a young gazelle.

“I hate her”, said Roberta Mackey.

She wasn’t the only one. All of Filly Blinder’s staff resented staying in the office until 7 o’clock because was running late; but it was Roberta who seemed to get the most attention – an email just before bedtime asking (telling) her to have the Angola spreadsheet ready for her in the morning; or the Parker contract reviewed, revised, and edited; or the Knowledge Management Manifesto – Filly’s latest iteration of her move to make all information more accessible – ‘perked up’ and a final draft prepared.

“It is from the most competent that the most work is asked”, said Holly Ladbroke. “You should be happy that Filly thinks so much of you”, she said. “A raise is in order.”

Of course nothing could be further from the truth.  Filly was Senior Management’s love child and favorite daughter.  She not only ran a tight ship, she exacted more work at less cost than any other Senior Vice President in the firm.  Advance Solutions International (ASI) operated on what its critics called ‘The Trireme Principle” – fill the galley with bright, young, enthusiastic recruits eager to row; and then throw them over the side when they could row no more.


This, of course was hyperbole and not a little jealousy. The company management plan was as sound as could be.  There were thousands of eager twenty-somethings, fresh from Hopkins or Tulane wanting to do good and willing to put up with meager wages and pitiable conditions to do so; so when they did eventually become disillusioned and quit, the line of new recruits waiting to take their place wound around the block and well down L Street.

Filly’s meetings were short and to the point.  Organized around the principle of ‘Convocation for Performance’, they were meant to encourage collegial dialogue and collaborative effort towards a common goal.  They were nothing of the sort, for Filly used them to call out laggards and low-performers.  She was a master at the Three-Stroke Enterprise – humiliating the slow-witted shufflers, dispatching them with her vicious stiletto wit, and sending them packing by the end of the week.

“Who said that women don’t make good bosses?”, asked Packard Vance, a senior member of Filly’s department who had long ago learned to keep his head down, his opinions to himself, and his silver tongue polished and ready. He had seen bosses come and go in this very fluid business and had survived all of them.  Good managers were as scarce as hens’ teeth, he said, and there were very few who had mastered the art of juggling esprit de corps, employee satisfaction, productivity, and profit.  Every executive went overboard on at least one of these variables key to success.

“There was Hank Linker”, Vance went on. “He was everyone’s friend. Hale-fellow-well-met, handshakes in the hall, banter by the coffee machine, smiley-face stickers on all but the lamest drafts.  It wasn’t long before the minions started drifting in late and leaving early, taking sorry advantage of poor Hank. Wrong church, wrong pew, wrong hymns.”

Image result for images smiley face

Successive SVPs went overboard on discipline, camaraderie, collaborative management, or inspirational motivation.  All were dismissed, and none was the match for Filly Blinders. 

Filly was the first woman Senior Vice President in a company which had long been a bastion of male privilege and authority.  The CEO, pressured by his Board of Directors to diversify and hire women, had never worked with them and was at a loss over whom to hire. He chose Filly Blinders because she was more like a man than any other candidate.  There was nothing feminine about her – nothing demure, soft, or retiring. He felt that only a woman who – in metaphorical terms – spat, scratched her balls, and fought like a street dog – would do.

Filly was no dyke. In fact she had a remarkably submissive side when it came to her husband.  Her relationship with him, she admitted to intimates, was the result of the patriarchal relationship she had with her father.  She was more than happy to roll over and spread her legs for Daddy; but when it came to the office, she wanted to unman any male employee that crossed her.

Filly, however, did not stop with men.  She was violently jealous of any female competitor; and while she knew that she was the intellectual superior of any of the women in her office, because she had not been graced with beauty or charm, resented any minion who had been.  In short, Filly Blinders was an avenging angel.

Image result for images avenging angel


“Good for her”, said the CEO when he witnessed a few bloody internecine battles with her male peers.  “More power to her”, he said when he witnessed the humiliating emasculation of her underlings. “I am just glad that I am her boss.”

Perhaps Filly’s greatest talent was instituting a rule of omertà – absolute silence. Anyone who expressed the least dissatisfaction to senior management; anyone who gossiped or spread rumors about the modus operandi of the department would be summarily dismissed. Filly knew that the company’s support departments – HR and Accounting among others – were the keys to her exercise of power.  If treated right, they would go along with any labor or financial decision she took; so she was careful to curry their favor. In fact, anyone who saw her at lunch at Le Diplomate with the heads of these departments would automatically assume that she was a gregarious if not charming host and colleague.

Image result for images omerta


So for years her minions cried in the Ladies Room, sobbed at night in bed, and poured out their anxieties and fears to friends and family.

The CEO, CFO, and COO at Advanced Solutions had absolutely no idea what was happening below them on the organization chart.  All they saw was Filly’s remarkable and consistent numbers.  She was always at the top of the list when it came to on-budget and on-time performance.  Her profit margins were enviable, and her win-rate on new contract proposals stunning. No one in the company came close.

“Enough of this feel-good management style”, said Packard Vance. “Filly is better at management than any Mafia don.”

Image result for image john gotti


Not all women make good managers.  Many have still to overcome male patriarchy and the guilt of juggling work and career.  They are unable to jettison traditional ideas about biological imperatives, motherhood, and child-rearing; and have difficulty rejecting age-old conditions of feminine beauty, allure, and sex appeal. 

Not so Filly Blinders. She had perfectly and completely turned herself not only into a man but an uber-man more male than male. She was the alpha wolf, the predator, and the fierce defender of turf and territory.  She was an aggressive, militant, and amoral Genghis Khan.  “She’s beautiful”, said Packard Vance. “Who could even imagine a woman like this?”

Image result for images alpha wolf


The story does not end with any comeuppance, humiliating defeat, contrition, or meek apologies. Filly Blinders would no sooner go down to an ignominious defeat than Cleopatra or John Gotti.  No, she continued her successes not only at ASI but at a number of other well-known firms as well.  She became wealthy, respected, and always in demand.

To say that the moral of the story is that women make good managers would be disrespectful to women and insulting to Filly Blinders.  Of course women can be successful at the highest levels.  The real and only moral of the story is that brutal, cutthroat, and amoral behavior always rules the day in any competitive marketplace.

“I wish Filly Blinders were negotiating with the Iranians”, said Packard Vance. “Then we could be assured of getting a favorable deal.”

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