ATTACK OF THE OBSESSIVE MANAGERS These hard-driving, detail-oriented types would seem most likely to succeed at lean and mean. Think again.

(FORTUNE Magazine) – At companies where cost cutting has become the watchword, the obsessive manager may well be crawling out of the woodwork and into the limelight. Watch him pounce: ''Ah yes, Gengerschneck, in reviewing your latest expense report I noticed that you took an $8 cab ride from the airport when a bus was available for a mere $3 . . . So what if it was four in the morning?'' See him interact with subordinates: ''This concludes our weekly 2 P.M. meeting. In 15 minutes we'll get together for our weekly 4 P.M. meeting to discuss the results of our 2 P.M. meeting.'' Hear his battle cry: ''Is everybody busy?'' Who is this guy -- or, less frequently, this gal? Well, say the psychologists, he looks suspiciously like just your Everyday Joe, but one whose obsessive tendencies are perhaps a tad further developed than most. The psychologists then break into a snit of qualifications: Almost everyone is a bit obsessive, they aver; we all have those little routines we use to get ourselves organized, such as putting a glass of water by the bed every night. Some of us even use small, superstitious gestures to ward off anxiety, knock wood. In other words, be careful, buster, about using obsessive as a pejorative. Details, details. Let's not be inaccurate, but let's not be coy either. ''Obsessive behavior is widespread among executives,'' says Dr. Leon Salzman, a Washington, D.C., psychoanalyst and arguably the foremost U.S. authority on the subject. The tough part, of course, is distinguishing the harmless variety from the excessive stuff that can thoroughly screw up individuals and organizations. While no expert will hazard the opinion that obsessiveness is on the increase, psychologists who know the corporate scene observe that a cost-cutting milieu offers an especially rich opportunity for folks so minded to do their fussy thing. In many outward respects, the obsessive-to-a-fault may seem the answer to an employer's prayer. He works long hours, attends to details, and sets high standards for himself. Look beneath the hyperkinetic appearance, however, into what he's actually working on, and you're likely to find trivia. What makes this character ruinous as a manager is that he imposes the same ill-directed demands on subordinates as on himself. Consider what psychologists call his sense of time urgency. The obsessive starts out desperately concerned that his own time not be wasted. Upon becoming a boss, he extends this to a relentless concern that his minions not be wasting their time either. ''When one of these types gets loose, he may tell people to keep a log, to make a note every few minutes of what they're doing 'just so I can get an idea how we do our work,' '' observes Frank Landy, - a professor at Penn State and a specialist in the psychology of work behavior. ''That's b.s. He's going to look over their shoulder.'' The obsessive manager is usually more concerned that his people make sure of every detail than he is that the details add up to anything of value to the business. Expert after expert bears witness to the obsessive's immersion in the inconsequential -- gimcrack administrative procedures, grunt work of the kind that got him promoted long ago, the amassing of petty factoids. By interminably sifting the data, the obsessive also avoids making decisions. ''One reason people do this at the managerial level is that they can't do the big stuff,'' argues James Wilson, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh. ''Big stuff like weighing strategies, charting the right direction, developing people on the job, knitting people together.'' According to the experts, the obsessive acts the way he does -- driven, repetitious, and fussy -- principally to ward off anxiety. What he's anxious about, they say, is a loss of control. If he loses control, something terrible will happen -- he just knows it. He will be judged, found wanting, and exposed as a failure. Some experts trace the problem back to parents who were hypercritical and not supportive of the child's efforts to become independent. Well, if you got an A, why not an A+? ''To become an obsessive, you have to have an obsessive parent,'' says Dr. Salzman. Dyed-in-the-wool Freudians invoke childhood struggles over toilet training that continue to haunt the obsessive years later. ONE OF THIS leads to terrific interpersonal skills. Indeed, when it comes to controlling everyone, some of the breed apparently can't bring themselves to do it face to face. Says Patrick Vann, a professor of business administration at the University of Colorado: ''The obsessives I've seen tend to cluster at opposite ends of a spectrum. Either they stay away from people or they're the type who, if someone isn't performing up to snuff, will step forward with a large foot to let him know about it.'' Howard Bratches, a headhunter with the Thorndike Deland firm, describes the executive style of the loners: ''They want their own elevators. They don't accept any calls unless they know exactly what the caller wishes to discuss. They have secretaries help keep them above the fray. They develop intricate reporting systems, but in the long run become so insulated that they don't know what's going on right under their noses.'' Obsessive managers at the other end of the spectrum ''become compulsive about interacting with colleagues, briefing superiors, or requiring reports from subordinates,'' notes Randall Dunham, a University of Wisconsin professor of management. They hold lots of meetings. ''They need constant approbation,'' Dr. Salzman explains. ''Most of the time they don't have any warm relationships, but they're constantly pressing for closeness. These are the guys who go out and buy friends.'' One reason they don't have many friends, particularly among their subordinates, is that big foot. Your garden-variety obsessive, because he never quite learned to handle aggressiveness, can easily get a bit, well, sadistic, to use the technical term. Abraham Zaleznik, a Harvard Business School professor and psychoanalyst, observes, ''If a corporation is in a mode where cost containment is paramount, it's a field day for someone who has a lot of sadism in his nature.'' The trouble is, his particular brand of cost cutting may not work all that well. Penn State's Landy tells why: ''He will come in and set up an enormously elaborate set of rules and procedures. Subordinates will conclude the problem is now under the boss's control, not theirs.'' Their halfhearted compliance only frustrates the boss's need for control, Landy notes. ''The manager will say, 'These people are acting like children.' Then he'll put on more controls.'' Dunham of Wisconsin tells of consulting for an organization whose different groups were trying to cut costs. Group leaders who weren't obsessive tended to say things like ''Let's get creative and find good ways even if the results don't show up right away.'' In contrast, obsessive group leaders, with typical obsessive negativism, killed any ideas whose effects wouldn't be reflected in the numbers immediately. Dunham says the nonobsessives turned out to be better at saving money. Other liabilities attach to having an obsessive in charge. If the necessity to change overtakes the organization, this guy, wedded to doing things the same way again and again, will be about the last soul you'll want in the wheelhouse. No risk-taker he, and no creative type. His subordinates won't be either, if they know what's good for them. One consolation: While the man's obsessiveness may seem almost unbearable to people in the organization, it's probably even harder on him. There's a strong likelihood that he will have a Type A coronary-prone personality, with / all the other stress-related illnesses and possibilities for burnout that such high-tension flesh is heir to. Brittle, living in terror of being found out, he can never be comfortable in his skin, as the French say. What usually causes an obsessive to turn himself in for therapy, clinicians report, is his inability to enjoy his work, or his wealth, or anything else. Ah, you say, but this guy is my boss. What to do? First, as the psychologist Harry Levinson suggests, try to figure out whether Himself's current obsessive behavior is part of his character or merely, as the pros say, situational. If he's just anxious about some passing threat, the behavior may pass too. He may even be amenable to the observation that he has been a little bit preoccupied with the small stuff of late. If, on the other hand, you conclude that it's part of his makeup, then ''you will have to adapt or adjust to unacceptable demands on yourself with reasonable good will,'' Dr. Salzman counsels. Or start circulating your resume. Other experts suggest trying to channel his obsessiveness into areas where it will do the least harm. At a minimum, Emory University's Roderick Gilkey advises, speak to him in terms he will understand: I think if we do it that way, boss, we'll have better control of the project. AND WHAT, just possibly, if it is you who are becoming an eensy bit too obsessive? You may want to use a test suggested by Richard Huseman, chairman of the management department at the University of Georgia: Do you ask subordinates how their current assignment is to be done, or do they ask you? If they keep coming to you for guidance, you may be too caught up in the details. Try to figure out what's making you anxious and how you might respond to it. Yes, yes, there are real threats out there. Much Japanese behavior, for example, looks suspiciously obsessive. Maybe it works for them. Once you understand the type, though, you can rise to the higher challenge -- competing with the obsessives of this world without acting like one.