Starting somewhere in the middle of the last century, American corporations decided that they needed to invest in developing their managers. Historically, American business relied on nature and the tools of society to cultivate their workforce. The workers would get a basic education in the public schools. Natural talent and upbringing would sort the workforce the rest of the way. The best and brightest would naturally rise through the ranks to populate the management layer.
This was slowly replaced in the 20th century with a new model where senior management implemented programs to train their people, but also cultivate the sorts of people who would become managers. In the back quarter of the 20th century leadership training became popular in corporate America. Managers would receive the same sorts of leadership training officers in the military receive. Developing the next generation of corporate leaders is now a hundred billion dollar industry.
Because it has been normalized over several generations, no one notices the contradiction in these programs. All of the people subject to this training are in positions where no one would want leadership. These are administrative jobs filled with people tasked with following the rules. They may be required to supervise others who are also tasked with following rules. These are not positions that demand leadership, but rather roles that demand obedience.
Of course, the military has solved this contradiction. A squad leader is trained to use the materials at his disposal, including his men, to achieve the assigned objective within the rules of the operations. He is not allowed to question the rules of engagement or the objectives of his squad, but he is free to utilize the resources made available to him, plus what he can find on his own. In other words, it is leadership within the artificial construct of the military system.
Corporations borrow this general idea. The want their managers to be goal oriented and use the resources available to them to achieve the goal. The shipping manager does not select the shippers or what gets shipped, but he is given a crew, tools to box and ship items and certain goals to meet. He gets to select within a limited number of options how best to get the assigned items shipped out and the incoming items received into the shipping department.
Another way this is put is they want the shipping manager to take ownership of his department like it is his business. It is not his business and will never be his business, but they seek to trick him into acting as if it is his business. That way he will sacrifice, and perhaps encourage his people to sacrifice, in order to meet the goals laid out for him by his superiors. Like the actual owner of a business, he will act as if there is no separation between him and his work.
All of this leadership training sounds good in theory, even if it contains a central contradiction, but there is another problem. The nature of management and the nature of man tell us that the last thing a manager will want is a natural leader as one of his direct reports. That hotshot in shipping could get noticed by the big bosses and be promoted up the ladder, perhaps at the expense of his boss. Systemic pressure will always reward obedience over leadership.
It is the old line about leadership. First rate men attract first rate men, while second rate men attract third rate men. To a great degree, this is the problem that leadership training is trying to address. The people at the top, the senior managers, want to keep the pot bubbling so that they can spot the managers with potential and promote them into middle management. They do not want the natural talent boiling off because it is blocked by a ceiling of mediocrity.
The military has always suffered from this problem. Peacetime armies tend to develop a leadership class that is good at politics, but not war fighting. Wars always result in changes at the top and a restructuring of the officer class. We have seen this in the Ukraine war where both sides have changed their command structure in response to the reality on the ground. Corporations suffer the same phenomenon; except they lack war to force a pruning of the system.
The exception to this is the private company. The owner is there and he has every reason to find the best people to populate his ranks. Elon Musk has fired half the Twitter staff because they were there to serve the goals of managers, not owners, so as far as he was concerned, they were useless. The owner of the business does not need leadership training in the corporate sense, because he does not have to be trained to take ownership, as he is the owner.
This is the dilemma facing America. It is a society run by managers who have turned the owners into passive share holders. This is managerialism. Like a publicly traded company, the owners care only about returns. The overall management of society is left to a class of managers. Those managers, in addition to making sure the owners think they are getting a positive return, have the additional goal of making sure they remain the senior managers of the system.
Like senior management in a corporation or the senior officers in a peacetime army, the management class of America is primarily concerned with preserving their position at the top of the system. That requires them to always be on the lookout for people down the ranks who could be a threat. The solution to that is the solution all second rate men find and that is to promote third rate men. The managerial system that runs America selects for decreasingly talented managers out of necessity.
You see this with the Twitter situation. Elon Musk replaced a collection of ridiculous people with himself and a small team of his people. When you examine the titles of the people wiped out in the first wave of layoffs, it is clear they played no role in the profitability of the company, other than as an expense. They and their roles existed to serve the narrow interests of management. They were of no use to a genuine owner taking an active role in the running of the company.
Managerialism was on display in the past election. Mitch McConnell diverted tens of millions of dollars to safe Senate races, but starved out many contested ones, because that served his interests as the senior manager of the party. It is better for him that a third rate zombie like Murkowski returns to the Senate than a potential threat like Blake Masters gets promoted into the Senate. Instinctively, Mitch McConnell selects third rate people because it serves his interest.
That is the key to understanding the current crisis. The system selects for the sorts of people who naturally become Mitch McConnell or Nancy Pelosi. Even the richest people are forced to select between two narrowing options. The second rate men select third rate men who in time take their place at the top, selecting for people who will be non-threatening to their position. Managerialism always ends with incompetence at the top and that fosters a culture of paranoia.
This is the inherent contradiction in managerialism. It is supposed to check the power of the ownership class, but it ends up replacing it with an increasingly incompetent management class. That management class, sensing its own vulnerability, selects for increasing incompetent people up and down the system. It is how we have a political system run by octogenarians promoting brain damaged zombies and obsequious sycophants into the highest offices in the system.
This always ends one way. In the corporate sphere, companies like Twitter either go bust or they get taken over by ownership. In the military sphere the rulers are forced to replace the politicians in the officer ranks with genuine wartime leaders. For the managerial society, the result is systemic collapse and replacement with a modified form of private rule. This is what happened with the Soviet Union. Communism was replaced with a form of oligarchy.
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