The Upside of Anger
(FORTUNE Magazine) - LET'S SAY, FOR A MINUTE, that you're the boss. You have a choice: to be loved or to be feared. Which works better when the proverbial pedal hits the cold, hard metal? It took me a couple of decades to get there, but I think I have the answer. You may not like it. I had this huge project, a big presentation with mucho financial charts and embedded PowerPoints bound into a book. It had to be done on time. It had to be right. Page 42 could not come after page 43. Captions could not be in Greek. Every department was called into play. Financial types. Writers of prose. Chartmakers. Editors. The print shop. The mailroom. Everybody. What they used to call a full-court press, when sports metaphors were not considered pathetically 20th century.
The first draft hit my desk a week before we needed to go hot. It was a mess. But I like to be loved, you know. I like it when I walk down the hallway and people say, "Hi, Bing!" and the occasional sales dude pats me on the shoulder in the elevator, the way those guys do when their affectionate insincerity gets the better of them. That's what I like about business. The big beating heart of it, you know.
So I took the doc and looked at it for a while, and then I called a meeting and got everybody together around a table and we went through it, thoughtfully, with coffee and Danish. At the end of that four-hour session, we had a draft that was workable, if one and all got it nice and tidy for the next iteration three days hence.
During those three days--I won't lie to you--I was nervous. If everything went right, that would leave us one day to make final, teeny edits and send it to the print shop for copying and binding. That's a tight turnaround, but I figured we would make it work, because we all like each other and work so well together.
The morning arrived, and I woke up with a small, toothy badger in my stomach. After putting him to sleep with three cups of coffee and a BLT, I called Randy, the technical wizard in charge of the master document. "Where is it?" I said.
"I'll have it in an hour," he said.
It was supposed to be on my desk at nine sharp. "Okay, Randy," I said, "but I'm getting ootsy on this." I felt bad, because I had been a tad short with the boy.
Two hours and three Advils later, Randy poked his head around my door. "Here you go," he said, and evaporated.
It could have been my imagination, but the cover looked tilted. I opened it up. There was another cover. Then there was a blank page and then a title page with no graphic--there was supposed to be a snazzy area chart--and one of the words in 48-point type misspelled. Molars fusing together, I paged on. Text blocks were on the wrong pages. Graphs were miscaptioned and in one case upside down. I felt a vein in my neck pop.
I grabbed the biggest red marker I could find--a juicy felt-tip that made a line a quarter of an inch thick--and began to write.
"NO!" I wrote on the first page, and "THIS IS !@#$!" on the next, with huge arrows pointing to each individual screwup. My spleen exploded, and bile began shooting out of my nose. The top of my head flew off and spun around the room like a deflating balloon. "DOES ANYBODY AROUND HERE CARE ABOUT THIS EXCEPT ME!?" my felt-tip screamed. On every page there were TYPOS! and ENTIRE SENTENCES DROPPED! I continued to hack away at it, grinding enormous, crimson words on the pages, at one point spilling almost a whole bottle of raspberry tea on it, turning it soggy and blazing red.
An hour and a half later, my lower lip hanging down to reveal long incisors and drool bubbling down my chin, I dropped the steaming object on Randy's desk and blared something poisonous into his face indicating that if all was not perfectly fixed by 5 P.M., a host of people would be without their asses to sit on.
And then, my friends, a miracle took place. As I sat fuming on my leather throne, a blizzard of activity took shape in the hall outside my office. People ran hither. Others ran yon. Horror transformed their features. Nobody looked into my den, fearful of being singed. An atmosphere of frenetic work suffused the floor, and a lovely hush. For the rest of the day, I spoke to no one. When I did see somebody, I glowered at them. And they cringed. It was horrible. It was wonderful. It was management in its most pure and effective short-term incarnation.
At 5 P.M. we all met with our copies of the new document. It was perfect. I thanked everybody and apologized for my outburst. No, I was assured, I had every right to turn into a six-headed beast spewing hot pig fat in all directions.
So in the end, which is it--love or fear? You know what I think?
STANLEY BING's new book, Rome, Inc.: The Rise and Fall of the First Multinational Corporation (Atlas Books, W.W. Norton), which is excerpted in this issue, will be available to all corporate conspirators on the Ides of March.
PEOPLE RAN HITHER, OTHERS RAN YON, HORROR IN THEIR EXPRESSIONS.