Warning: Your boss may be about to blow

December 15, 2008: 11:26 AM ET

rodThere's an interesting psychological analysis of Rod Blagojevich in today's NY Times. In it lies a case study of which we should all be aware, with implications for each and every person who still has the privilege of going to a job each day and working for a person who, for better or worse, they call their boss.

For a long time, we have known certain things about the people we work for:

  • As all people are, they are bent and warped in certain ways unique to their characters, with each individual sporting warts, zits and lumps all his own;
  • Common personality traits of bosses include narcissism, anger, inability to concentrate on details, failures in compassion and empathy, grandiosity and, in later stages, delusion, addiction and career death;
  • In good times, these characteristics are often modified by the overall positive mood of the operating environment;
  • In bad times, the warts grow hairs and sprout like tumors from the head of the beast.

These are not good times. Hence the usefulness of any investigation into the kind of decomposition we might come to expect from those we serve.

Some aspects of Blagojevich's character, according to the Times:

  • A person he worked with told him his stepfather had just suffered a stroke. Blagojevich expressed momentary regret, then went on to ask whether the man's family could contribute money to the campaign. Lack of empathy.
  • He was obsessed with his own personal brush from Paul Mitchell, which he referred to as "the football," a reference to the bomb codes always within reach of the president in case of nuclear attack. This might have been funny at one point. Even narcissists make fun of themselves when they're feeling particularly flush.
  • Even as his world started unraveling in the last few weeks, Rod can still be heard on tapes speaking about his ambition to run for president, perhaps in 2016. Who knows? With that kind of grandiosity he just might make it.
  • He also reportedly had a lot of trouble showing up, being on time, dealing with the actual details of business, while demanding perfection from others. I read that as depression and anxiety, which I know a little something about from, you know, personal experience.

So... how do things look around you? The economy is throwing off blue smoke and headed for the side of the mountain. Heads aren't just rolling, they're flying through the air like cannon balls. People are talking about more of the same until 2010.

Every day another former captain of industry explodes into criminal malfeasance, in what seems to me like the most massive collapse of leadership in all aspects of public life since... what... Grant?

How's your boss bearing up? Look for the signs. And be prepared, fellow Scouts. Keep those matches dry, and your own personal compass in good working order. It's a long way out of these woods.

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