I once stayed in the Hamptons for a few weeks. I made the mistake of renting a one-room shack for half my salary for a summer. It was wall-to-wall CEOs. All driving cars bigger than my apartment. It's the only place I've ever been where I was crossing the street with a baby in a stroller and a guy in a Benz honked at me. And I thought, This is the executive mind. This is somebody who is so angry that I'm impeding his progress to get a cherry pie for $25 that he's honking at a man walking a baby down the street. But that angry person, that's the person who's going to rise to the top of corporate life.
That reminds me of a scene from The Apprentice, where someone asked a contestant if they'd rather be feared or liked.
I've always despised bosses who believed it's best to be feared.The ones I like are the ones who do what parents do, which is kind of alternate approval and disapproval so that the love becomes just as important as the fear. I think that's true management. Not being a narcissistic person like Donald Trump. People who really aren't in business think that show is the way business is. But really, business is more like a dysfunctional family, and you can't be fired from your family as much as you might want to. So you have to figure out ways to deal with these people. And that's why boss management is so important. Books to the contrary notwithstanding, you can't really choose your boss. You have to figure out how to solve people, and you have these reservoirs of anger and resentment that help fuel you, but at the same time you have to be very cagey and crafty and think about how you're going to talk to this person tomorrow.
What about your network, CBS? Any corporate strategies to be taken from Survivor?
I'll tell you who was the ultimate management think tank: Richard Hatch. He fit in very nicely with a book I wrote at the time called What Would Machiavelli Do? Richard was really Machiavellian, and he showed all the characteristics of a Machiavellian strategist, which was that he wasn't particularly likable, yet you kind of had to love him for how naked his ambition was.
Literally and figuratively.
Richard's nakedness was sort of similar to Trump's hair. You couldn't really figure out why they were doing it, but it seemed to be working for them.
Speaking of identities, do people at work ask you things like, "Was that guy in your column Joe from sales?"
The only complaints I've ever gotten from people in my company are when I don't write about them. For example, I give pseudonyms to everybody, and I had lunch with the guy I call Morgenstern a while back and he said to me, "You don't love me anymore. You haven't made fun of me once this whole year." And people will come up to me and they'll say, "I read this column. That was me, wasn't it?" And invariably, I'll say, "Yes, that was you." Why not?
In your recent book, I noticed very few examples of warlike executives who are female, which, I guess, may be a good thing. But you did seem to have a soft spot for Martha Stewart.
I do right now. In my previous books I was a little harsh on her. She does display that horrible quality of executive neurosis where a person can't say, "Hey, I was wrong. Let me start this over again." But she couldn't do it. People who told her she should apologize, she fired them and brought in people who would tell her what she wanted to hear. Which executives do all the time, unfortunately. I do have a soft spot for her now, because she suffered out of proportion to what she did in terms of financial implications. It's almost minuscule to some of the other criminals we've seen. I think she suffered to some extent from her own arrogance and because she's a woman.