Bad Company

The arc of institutions, including governments and corporations, particularly public ones, bends toward short-term thinking, bullying, anti-competitive behavior and laziness.

The antidote is persistent vigilance and heroic leadership.

The organizational math is compelling. When a toxic employee shows up, it might be easier to simply work around him. When competitors engage in graft or corruption, the easy path is to compete in the same way. It’s only fair.

And when employees are rewarded for short-term actions that lead to short-term stock gains, the bad behavior compounds.

Some theorized that cutthroat competitive markets were the antidote to the corroding organization. After all, if your team is losing the game, you’ll get your act together–it works in baseball, they say.

The problem is that short-term competitive markets reward short-term competitive thinking, which, while it might diminish sloth, does little to help in the long run.

The entropy of organizations means that difficult conversations and a positive ratchet of culture change are unlikely to occur on their own.

But there’s an alternative. The alternative is the leader (regardless of her title–authority isn’t the point) who says, “not on my watch.” This is the person who realizes that today at work never happens again, and this opportunity to make things better won’t present itself another time.

Of course, it’s exhausting, because you have to do it every day.

But that’s why it’s such an extraordinary opportunity. Not simply as a competitor, but as a human.

To make things better.