What is up with executive worship in Corporate America?

So today, the VP in charge of our department came down from the Corporate Office to have a 3-hour meeting with some of our team members. My boss offered to provide lunch, which of course means that I’ll take orders from 10 people, walk to the restaurant in below-freezing weather to pick it up, and give it to my boss so she can present it and make it look like she did all the work.

For this entire week, she harangued me almost hourly. “Did you get the menus?” “Did you get the orders?” “Is everything faxed?” Did you ask [my other boss] for the corporate credit card?" “Do I need to ask him for you?” Everything is fine… it wasn’t a difficult job taking the orders.

I was, however, busy with other things when the VP’s assistant called me an hour ago to ask for a whiteboard for the meeting. As I had my attentions in, y’know, managing my office, the whiteboard completely slipped my mind.

Boss comes back like a raving lunatic, “Where’s the whiteboard?! You didn’t get the whiteboard! Drop whatever it is you’re doing and get it right now!”

So this was an example leading to my question: How did executives in Corporate America come to be regarded as semi-divine? Never embarrass an executive, even if he said something completely stupid. Never dress better than an executive. If you and the executive are walking toward each other, get the hell out of the way. Yes, he signs your paychecks. But this sort of reverence isn’t found in Europe or other industrialized countries. Where did it come from in the USA, and why?
**Disclaimer: The story might be slightly embellished to make my point, but not much. Plus I’m in a bad mood now. *:smiley:

Capitalism? If a company makes a lot of scratch, the CEO is supposedly the driver of that revenue. They’re also paid more than anyone is worth, so it feeds into itself.

I’m sure there are some very good and enlightened and dynamic CEOs out there that do have some kind of profound impact upon their company. I’d like to have lunch with a few to get to know how they tick a little better, but that’s hard to do.

The bit about your paycheck being signed by them seems to have been trivialized by your offhanded mentioning of it. I believe that that is their ace in the hole.
Perhaps, the Europeans, and other industrialized nations, feel that paychecks have less value in their nations than we here do?
Not saying that they are *worth *it, but they are the bosses.


What bugs me when bigwigs visit our site: things that we’ve complained about for months get fixed/taken care of – in order to “make a good impression”. Who cares about the needs of people who spend 40 hours a week here? We have to make things look good for a couple of guys that will basically do a 2 hour walk-thru.

I don’t know if it’s so much worship, as it is simple brown-nosing and/or anxiety over the fact that they potentially have a lot of sway over your future in the company. If all the i’s aren’t dotted or the t’s crossed, the exec could remember it when promotion time rolls around. OTOH, if you make a good impression they might be willing to put in a good word for you when raises are being determined.

This, more or less.

This is actually not true. If anything, there is more class distinction between the rank and file staff and their managers and executives in Europe and Asia, not less.
I’m not sure how your question about executive worship relates to the rest of your story. It doesn’t seem like anyone was worshiping your boss. It seems to me your boss overreacted because you didn’t do what she asked. (Actually she seems like the classic female corporate manager. Too high strung and unable to get work accomplished without screaming at or berating people.)

Obviously, I can only go on what you post, so I may not have the whole picture, but it seems to me that you are the one who does not “get it”. Presumably the point of your boss’s 3 hour meeting is not to present a meal. It was to discuss some topic of importance. So clearly forgetting to bring a whiteboard might be a bit of an inconvenience.

In corporate America, there is the concept of a “hierarchy”. In many ways it is similar to the military. As a general rule, the more experienced and more successful you have been in your career, the higher you tend to be in that hierarchy. Also as a general rule, the more tedious or mundane the task, the further it gets pushed down.

Completely untrue.

I think the OP was complaining that his boss was worshipping the VP who was coming down for the 3 hour meeting. If you have a regular meeting, and someone forgets a whiteboard, everyone chats for 2 minutes while someone goes and gets one. If you have a meeting with a Vice President, the absence of the whiteboard is noted by the august personage, and repercussions will be felt.

We get the same kind of thing where I work. Memoes from the admins that the head of the division will be visiting our facility, so clean up your cubical. We’re a bunch of engineers - clutter is a good thing for most of us. If I was a VP walking around, and everyone’s cubical looked perfect, I’d suspect no one actually did any work.

Some fields are worse than others for this. What kind of company do you work for?

They are pack leaders. People love recognition from pack leaders among their peers. And if you follow the rules of the group, you might become a leader one day.

Depends completely on the company and the exec. Some execs are “ordeno y mando” (I Request and Require), some are “rank and file”; some love a brownnoser, some hate them; some consider that manual work is beneath them, some will roll up their sleeves in an emergency and push any carts that need pushing, some can be recognized from the rest of the crew only because their hardhat is a different color, as the rest of them is as dirty as every other crewmember.

This is based on experience in over a dozen countries in Europe and America.

Now, I do find that in the USA you’re more likely to find “worship of the executive” (linked to individualism, and to the notion that if things go well it’s because the boss is doing something right) and in Latin America and Europe “fear of the executive” (linked to said executive being an autocratic arse).

The big wigs are the ones who can make or break you with a promotion. Of course it doesn’t always help.

I used to know a lot of bigwigs at Starwood Hotels, in fact the CEO called me “That computer guy in Chicago,” but I still got the chop.

Now maybe if he knew my name instead of spending three years saying, “Ask that computer guy in Chicago,” I would still be employed


I never got this either. As much as Americans claim to be rugged individualists, value self-sufficiency, suspect the government, etc, they still turn into bowing, scraping lickspittles if a corporate executive walks through the room.

“Signing the paychecks” isn’t really an explanation, at least not one that leaves the brown nosers with any dignity. Are they really going to fire you if you don’t brown nose enough? Are they going to promote you if you do? Even if they do, is it worth it?

I treat the execs at my company like any other coworker, even the CEO (who I call by his first name). Polite, respectful, professional, but not obsequious or fawning. They are my peers, not my superiors. I actually like them (I have possibly the coolest CEO in the US), but I don’t worship them.

When I worked for the Bell System 30 years ago, every year we had to clear out of our offices for a day so the execs could use them as phone booths. Not only that, we had to take down all decorations, because perish the thought that someone actually worked in those offices.

I’m in Silicon Valley now, and things are a lot different. My VP is a fun guy, and it would be hard to dress down relative to our CEOs. Carly Fiorina was despised by the HP people I knew because she played exec perq games (she came from AT&T) but she was considered an outlier.

One thing I’ve noted in both the corporate culture and the security/law enforcement culture is that leaders expect (read: demand) complete loyalty. But that loyalty only flows in one direction: Up. Loyalty is not returned in kind.

Never embarrassing your boss is less of an executive thing and more of a common sense thing. Your boss controls your yearly evaluations, makes decisions on who will be laid off in times of trouble, and can otherwise make things difficult for you. This is true whether or not you’re working in the corporate world or as a plumber.

As for the rest I would imagine it varies with each corporation. I worked at the corporate headquarters of a large company in Plano, Texas where I came into contact with upper management on a regular basis. They weren’t my immediate supervisors or anything but it was a small building and it was inevitable that you’d chit chat with one of them on occasion. Middle management promoted an atmosphere of fear when it came to upper management. I remember my supervisor gasping “Do you know WHO that was?” when I exchanged pleasantries with the CEO one morning. Like I’m supposed to be afraid of saying good morning?

I was low man on the totem pole so I don’t know if this was something created by middle management or if upper management had created it by shitting on them. Perhaps I was simply beneath their contempt and didn’t get crapped on by them.

By not providing something as simple as the whiteboard the exec asked for, your boss could potentially be seen as incompetent by someone responsible for her career. If she can’t handle the simple things - like a damned whiteboard, who is going to trust her with the big projects that will get her promoted (or keep her employed)? As a manager, her job is to make sure her team performs. You didn’t. The exec may now associate you boss with “unable to manage resources.”

She can buy her own fucking lunch, then.

My situation was once similar to the OP’s. My boss’s boss was descending upon us for a meeting, and I had to make the AV equipment ready. Thinking to impress, I booted up the fancynew giant flat-screen TV, instead of the clunky old overhead projector. But the presentation materials were designed for the projector.

In front of his boss, my boss simply said “Oh, my fault, I should have been more specific.”

Which made a better impression on the big boss than throwing a shit-fit would have, by demonstrating the old expression “authority can be delegated, but responsibility can’t.”

That said, I don’t worship my boss, but I respect him a lot more than some I’ve had.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/22/science/earth/22ander.html?_r=1 I like this one. It is possible to care about the planet and people while making lots of money. Even Walmart is greening up their stores.
A lot of people are convinced their is arcane knowledge that only an exec has that makes them so special at management. The execs at the financial companies were touted as financial geniuses when making money was easy. When they lost money, they all took a bath. That is where real management and knowledge is needed. It was lacking. I hope the financial crisis has taught the American people a more realistic appraisal of execs.