I was kind of shocked by the reaction to my support of Tim Geithner’s bad temper, not so much by the anti-Administration people whose mood is almost as bad as Timmy’s, but by the number of you who never swear and never yell at people when they frustrate you, even on the job.
I’ll go on the record and say this: I don’t approve of yelling philosophically and I certainly don’t like bullies one bit. But I have never spent time around anybody in a position of Authority that didn’t yell at some time, and that includes my first boss, my father and many, many bosses thereafter. I’m not saying I always enjoyed being on the receiving end, and as a boss I myself try to avoid it as much as possible, but the truth is, it’s not always possible. Like, a few years ago I had an assistant who shoved all my business expenses in a drawer and forgot about them. By the time I found out about it, my phone, BlackBerry and corporate plastic had been shut off. I’m sorry. I found yelling at her to be the only rational solution to the problem. I didn’t fire her, mind you. I just yelled my head off. And I’m glad I did. She deserved it. It took months to straighten things out. She left well before that time, by the way. I gave her a good recommendation, too, but stipulated that any new position she obtained should probably not involve math.
The fact is, I don’t trust bosses who don’t express some form of anger now and then. In my experience, they’re weasels. I believe Gandhi was grouchy a good amount of the time, and I’m not too sure that Mother Theresa was a bag of sunshine every morning, either. A leader who excises temper from his game isn’t really playing with a full deck.
As for cursing, I agree that the general linguistic state of play is very low these days. You can’t walk down a street without hearing bad things about somebody’s mother. It would be great if everybody cleaned up their act in this regard. But overuse of a tool doesn’t invalidate its use altogether. People drive too much but we still need cars. People eat too much but we still require food. People drink too much but life would be dingy indeed without the occasional pop from Mr. Walker or his patriotic friend Mr. Sam Adams. Proper use of profanity very often adds a certain spice to interpersonal communications without which our culture would be flatter, smoother and more boring. Chaucer used it. So did Churchill and Harold Geneen. I’m not even invoking George Carlin, Lenny Bruce or Joan Rivers.
Finally, in the context of business, I simply don’t know where a lot of you have been living. I have been with a big corporation since before many of you knew half the words to which you righteously object. I have attended meetings in every major city in the United States. And in every one of them, when the spirit moves them, people yell, people wag their fingers and, yes, people occasionally curse. It’s the ones who don’t who have scared me the most.
I’d like to thank Mr. Tim Geithner for providing much food for thought. And I’d like to wish him and his colleagues well in their attempts to remake our financial regulatory system. There’s a lot at stake, so I understand why he and Bernanke and the others who are charged with this massive responsibility might lose their patience now and then. I would advise them to try to keep it together for the most part, however. Nobody will benefit if the guys in charge pop a collective aneurism, and the benefits of ill temper diminish over time.