I recently came across a video on bbc.com called, “Crossing Divides: How to cope when your boss is younger than you.” In an effort to be helpful, the video was presented with this text snippet:

In a society increasingly fragmented by age, work is one place where different generations can meet and form relationships. Many companies are giving young people with up-to-date social media skills positions of responsibility, which can put age difference in the spotlight.

I love that: Fragmented by age. As if that’s the most significant or important reason for our fragmenting, more important, presumably, than ideology, dogma, identity politics, groupthink, and special interests. Right.

I also love this: Many companies are giving young people with up-to-date social media skills positions of responsibility, which can put age difference in the spotlight. What?! Up-to-date social media skills are criteria for positions of responsibilty? And those skills can put age difference in the spotlight? How about interpersonal skills? How about decision-making skills? How about experience? How about teaching young people there are more important and meaningful things in the world than social media? Good grief.

That abject lunacy notwithstanding, the video made me recall the first time I worked for a boss who was younger than me.

A Donkey by Any Other Name

In what turned out to be my last corporate job (thank God), I was working for one of the country’s largest insurance and financial services organizations (I love that kind of talk, too) in Hartford, Connecticut. My new boss was a hot-shot sales guy from Dallas, Texas. So, of course, the company put him in a management position. (Apparently, neither my new boss nor the company knew or cared anything about the Peter Principle.) His name was Mike. I was 40 at the time. Mike was 34. I knew where I stood with him the first time he said to someone else, in my presence and without abashedness or hesitation, “O’Brien is just a project guy.”

Mike was incompetent and unscrupulous. But he made up for it by being a narcissist. Despite his young age, his hair was already salt-and-pepper. And he was balding in the back. In an attempt to conceal the bald spot — and rather than allow for the lightening of his hair — Mike bought the RONCO GLH Formula in jet black. His vain miscalculation had two distinct effects:

  1. It made him look as if he were wearing a yarmulke.
  2. When he leaned his chair back during meetings and put the back of his head on the wall (as he did habitually), he’d leave a skidmark, of which he remained self-absorbedly unaware.

In addition to not knowing about the Peter Priciple, the company, evidently, didn’t know Mike was a jackass.

The Material Man

Mike also was a master of dispensing advice. During a staff meeting, one of my peers suggested he’d done something to (or neglected to do something for) his wife, which landed him in the doghouse. Mike said, “You should do what I do.”

“What’s that?” my peer inquired.

“Buy two dozen red, long-stemmed roses and wrap a 20-dollar bill around each stem.”

All the 20s in the world couldn’t buy that kind of wisdom, class, and integrity.

On another occasion, after he’d begun work in Hartford but before the moving van he’d hired had arrived from Dallas, I happened to be in his office one day when the phone rang. My presence notwithstanding, he answered it, of course. A heated exchange ensued, concluding with Mike’s yelling, “I don’t give a damn! Just leave the shit off!”

After hanging up, Mike looked at me, exasperated, and said by way of explanation, “It was the moving company. They told me all our stuff wouldn’t fit in the trailer. So, I told them to leave the stuff that wouldn’t fit. For Christ’s sake, you always have to leave stuff when you move, right?”

Not sure if the question was rhetorical, I stammered someting about my lack of famiarity with any such concept.

Red Herrings

If we were as worried about capabilities, ambition, and aptitude as we are about age, race, gender, inclusion, diversity, and all of the other things we line up before productivity, the efficient and effective allocation of scant resources (including time), and results, we’d be astonished at what we could accomplish. We’d also be much less susceptible to identity politics, groupthink, and jackasses like Mike.

But what do I know? I’m just a project guy.

Image by balik, courtesy of pixabay.com.